Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Come Unto These Yellow Sands

On Sunday I went with my family to see The Tempest at Marin Shakes, directed by Jon Tracy. This was unusual because:
Sarah Gold as Miranda.
Photo by Eric Chazankin.
a) I rarely get to see theater with my family. 
b) I rarely take the trek to San Rafael.


It was worth it.

Very much so.

We went on Family Matinee Day, which was wonderful because it meant that my three siblings and I got in for FREE. I couldn't help thinking that was a bit of a steal, but hey – it would have been too expensive for a family outing otherwise (and I do love seeing theater without feeling like I'm falling into financial ruin). There was a pre-show speech directed at some of the younger kids in the audience who didn't know the story of The Tempest. “Prospero got very mad because Caliban wanted to have babies with Miranda,” the Managing Director explained, and a few children let out nervous giggles. (A few parents did, too.) And then the show started. 

Those of you who have seen Jon Tracy theater before may have some idea of what to expect when coming to watch this Tempest. Certainly you wouldn't expect straight Shakespeare. You'd expect some crazy re-imagining that, somehow, against all odds, would work. And you would not be disappointed. But before I elaborate on that (without giving too much away, I promise), I need to quote from the Director's Note included in the program. I rarely laugh at Director's Notes, but this one got me (and my brother) in a big way.
I hate wizards.
Specifically, I hate one type of wizard; those guys with the big beards and the purple gown and hat with the silver moons and stars embroidered on them. Oh, and these wizards always have a magic wizard staff. Dumb.
No, not dumb. Boring. Really boring. Why? Because they always win. Why else? Because they know they will always win. They are wizards and you aren't. Really, the battle is over before it ever began. We're left with a bunch of fun magic spells to bide our time but really, that dude in purple is going to be just fine.
You protest. “What about Gandalf?” you say. “When I used to play Dungeons and Dragons my wizard character was totally killed by the Rancor Monster!” I reply in these ways: first, Gandalf didn't do so bad for himself, second, the Rancor Monster was in Star Wars but I get what you're saying and third, I'm obviously not talking about those wizards. I am instead really talking about one wizard. His name is Prospero.
But –” you continue to argue. I cut off with this addition: “It's my Director's Notes, not yours...back off.”
Jeremy Vik as a Quality.
Photo by Eric Chazankin.
Oh yes. So Tracy moved the action to 1901, and Prospero, instead of being a wizard, is based on the scientist Nikola Tesla, an electrical engineer and inventor famous for his work with alternating currents. Instead of brandishing a magic wizard staff, he fiddles with electricity, invents, fixes, works, and plays chess (in cluttered workspaces that are beautiful and interesting and designed by Nina Ball). Ariel is not one sprite but The Ariel Coil – with six goggled-and-suited beings called “Qualities” who move around the stage mechanically, as if on a grid, in a classic-ly creepy Tracian way. The production is full of sounds and surprises and Qualities popping out where you least expect them. (We saw it in the daytime so we missed whatever magic was happening with the lights, but I bet they're awesome at night [and probably raise the creepy level a couple of notches].)

There was one particular GREAT payoff for the electric transposition of the storyline: I have never appreciated the line: "My Ariel, chick / That is thy charge" as much as I did in this production, where the word “charge” becomes electrically punny. And, though I'm sure this is not what happened, I got a laugh imagining that Jon Tracy reimagined this whole show electrically primarily because of that great pun, and only secondarily because of the numerous and interesting reasons he outlined briefly in his Director's Notes.

Then my father pointed out to me that the pun was funny, but not that funny.

I have also never seen such a tough Miranda, and I like it. In most productions of The Tempest, Miranda will be played innocently, with a naivete and overpowering sweetness. Not that Sarah Gold's Miranda wasn't innocent or sweet, too. But when you see Miranda furtively lighting a cigarette when her father isn't looking, tucking her hair beneath a beanie, and sporting suspenders and breeches...suddenly she just becomes more interesting. Real. And yes, most certainly more of a teenager.

One caveat: this wouldn't be the Shakespeare show to go to if you were looking to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with the Bard's work, because (to me, at least) the text was a bit underwhelming next to the synchronized mechanical Qualities and the shifting and surprising set. But if you:
a) know The Tempest (anywhere from “vaguely” like my brother to “almost-by-heart” like my father) and are interested in seeing a new interpretations of it, OR
b) you usually dislike Shakespeare because you find it boring, OR
c) you like Tracian takes on classics, OR
d) you're intrigued by anything mentioned above,

...you should probably go. Or, in other words: if you miss this show, you probably will never get to see another one like it. Ever. No pressure.

The Tempest plays through Sept. 25th at Marin Shakespeare Company. More info here.

>> Still curious? Read a review of the show here

Set design by Nina Ball. Photo by Eric Chazankin.
(The Teen Perspectives blog post series comes from teens around the Bay who have seen a piece of theater that made them think. Have you seen a show that you want to respond to? Write it up! Short, long, medium, three words. It doesn't have to be a review; it can be [and is encouraged to be!] just reactions, thoughts, musings. Email it to us at upnextbayarea@gmail.com to have it featured on our blog.)

1 comment:

  1. It was an incredible show. I've spent the entire week walking around like a Quality!