This final weekend, the American Shakespeare Heart performed earlier than its first full home since earlier than the COVID pandemic. It’s a victory of big proportions for a corporation that has been battered by the virus, in addition to inner divisions over its ex-artistic director. And as their present fall repertory reveals, each actor right here has come by means of the struggles of the previous two years invigorated, with expertise to spare, able to thrill us with their newest strikes. The present crop of reveals is properly definitely worth the weekend away from the hustle of the DC space; make the journey, you can be enchanted—however extra vital, past the sheer pleasure of reside theater, you’ll come away with a renewed dedication to creating our neighborhood a greater, extra welcoming place to reside.
The sellout present was Shakespeare’s valedictory play The Tempest, that well-known comedy set on a distant desert isle populated by unusual native spirits, and a seemingly profane native who’s co-opted into serving his European grasp. For white audiences, the play has had its charms, with Prospero normally portrayed as a kindly, quirky wizard from Milan and Caliban as a bizarrely costumed alien, trotted out primarily for comedian aid.
By no means thoughts that it’s his island. By no means thoughts that Tempest is, for audiences of coloration, a play with as many points as The Service provider of Venice, whose antisemitism has lengthy been elided and whose central Jewish character, Shylock, has for hundreds of years been intentionally recast as a tragic determine. We’re nonetheless ready for a considerable re-vision of The Tempest, and a re-situation of the character of Caliban—which isn’t even his actual title, however one which Prospero cooked up for him.
This isn’t the Bard’s fault, essentially; he wrote The Tempest at a time when audiences wished adventures in unique locales just like the New World, with unique natives to gawk at. British colonialism was in its infancy, and it was some eight or 9 years earlier than the arrival of the primary African slaves within the Virginia colony—the place they have been promptly condemned by the harshest slave legal guidelines ever written in historical past, legal guidelines it took 350 years to largely (however by no means fully) erase.
Face it: producing this play at present is a problem as a result of what might have appeared like a nice little bit of fluff again within the early 1600s has a very totally different resonance at present. The insults hurled at Caliban, initially designed for comedian impact, now purchase a palpable ugliness, in a lot the identical approach that the invective towards Shylock (initially a red-wigged comedian foil) now rings darkly.
The performing ensemble at Staunton’s American Shakespeare Heart, with its renewed mission of serving the neighborhood’s priorities in addition to the Bard’s legacy, has created one of the crucial thought-provoking variations of this play you might be more likely to see—in Virginia, in DC, wherever. Working collaboratively, this multiracial performing firm has navigated by means of troubling language that at present is clearly unacceptable and created a imaginative and prescient of Prospero & Co. that can allow all audiences—emphasis on all—to understand Shakespeare’s genius with out being distracted by the dated, unflattering points of his work.
The play itself stays intact—with a storm, produced in-house by the actors themselves, almost drowning out the actors within the opening scene. As soon as firmly on the island we discover, in Sarah Fallon, a Prospero whose majesty comes not from bluster however from care (true to the script, Fallon’s Prospero stays a father, he/him/his). The interactions between Prospero and his daughter, Miranda (Sarah Suzuki, who captures the innocence of youth memorably), are memorable due to the immediately recognizable tensions between long-suffering mother or father and impatient adolescent. Her rendition of the well-known speech “Our revels now are ended…” comes within the context of a pensive second as she contemplates a revolt within the works—does she perceive what prompts a revolt from the islander Caliban, we surprise?
What additionally clues us in to the distinction with this manufacturing is the portrayal of Caliban, by Tevin Davis. As a result of this Tempest is paired with Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête, and since Davis performs the identical position in each performs, we get a delicate however palpable sense of pushback towards the Bard’s unique. Davis wears cowrie shells, a West African marker of status, as a reminder that nevertheless we perceive him, Caliban would have had a reputation, a language, and a heritage lengthy earlier than Prospero arrived—which works a great distance towards explaining why studying to curse Prospero in Prospero’s personal language makes excellent sense.
Davis’ Caliban additionally refuses to style a drop of liquor from the dead-drunk (and hilariously comedian) duo of Stefano and Trinculo. Just like the viewers, he’s properly conscious of their cluelessness, and he’s completely pleased to let ASC’s comedian masterminds, Erica Cruz Hernández and Annabelle Rollison, get all of the laughs they deserve, whereas he offers the viewers a traditional, deadpan, “Actually? These guys?” look.
As at all times with ASC there are standout performances among the many supporting solid, led by the insufferably pedantic Gonzalo, performed with gusto by Alexis Baigue (Gonzalo’s strolling stick however). And Mauricio Miranda’s Ferdinand has the allure of that awkward younger man who falls throughout himself when he meets up with Sarah Suzuki’s Miranda. Their courtship is priceless. (And when you assume he’s geeky good in Tempest, wait till you see his star flip in Pericles, which is on this fall’s repertory as properly!)
Make sure to present up early—one of many delights of a reside present is you get to sing together with the solid throughout their pre-show, with the irrepressible James Keegan main everybody within the psychedelic “Lucy within the Sky with Diamonds” (to set the theme of magic to do) set off by Brandon Carter’s rendition of Bob Marley’s “Pure Mystic”—with the intermission punctuated by traditional young-love hits like “Hooked on a Feeling” and “I Suppose We’re Alone Now.” What brings the home down earlier than Act 2, nevertheless, is Tevin Davis’ getting in contact together with his interior Aretha Franklin with a stunning “Chain of Fools.”
If it’s been some time because you’ve been to Staunton, now’s the time—the corporate hasn’t seen an inventive peak earlier than all the difficulty began, and they’re clearly again on their creative toes. Miraculous certainly!
The Tempest performs solely by means of November 19, in repertory with Une Tempete, and Pericles. Get busy, and get tickets!
Operating Time: Two hours quarter-hour, with one intermission.
The Tempest, part of American Shakespeare Heart’s Actor’s Renaissance Season, performs by means of November 19, 2022, in repertory with Une Tempête and Pericles. All performances are on the Blackfriars Playhouse, 10 South Market Avenue, Staunton, VA. For data and tickets ($27–$60, with an possibility to join the pay-what-you-will membership), go to americanshakespearecenter.com.
Credit for The Tempest are on-line right here (click on on “solid” and on “creative workforce”).
COVID Security: American Shakespeare Heart strongly encourages patrons to masks when doable. ASC’s full COVID-19 Security Customer’s Information is right here.
A uncooked and razor-sharp ‘Une Tempête,’ in rep at American Shakespeare Heart
A vividly hilarious ‘Pericles,’ in rep at American Shakespeare Heart
(critiques by Andrew Walker White, November 4, 2022)