A uncooked and razor-sharp ‘Une Tempête,’ in rep at American Shakespeare Heart


Typically a play written for a selected cultural second recedes into the longer term, awaiting the time for it to be rediscovered. And when it returns, it stays so compelling that it’s as if it had simply been written for our personal difficult political second.

Primarily based upon, and reflecting on the legacy of, Shakespeare’s well-known island idyll The Tempest, Martinique creator Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête (A Tempest) is having fun with a spirited revival at Staunton’s American Shakespeare Heart. Directed with an unsparing stare upon our previous (and current) by Daybreak Monique Williams, it’s as uncooked and as urgently human because it was when first produced within the Sixties. And if this razor-sharp manufacturing is any indication, Césaire’s play ought to be receiving revivals throughout the nation in very quick order.

Brandon Carter as Eshu (in trapdoor) and ensemble of ‘Une Tempête.’ Photograph by Anna Kariel.

This fall, the American Shakespeare Heart season encompasses a repertoire of performs centered on reconciliation, however a reconciliation that may come solely by means of a clear-eyed take a look at our theatrical and historic previous. Une Tempête is paired with an excellent and thought-provoking manufacturing of Shakespeare’s authentic play, The Tempest, which options the identical characters.

Which means theatergoers on the ASC have a once-in-a-lifetime alternative to see two seminal performs in direct dialog with one another, and the outcomes are wealthy certainly. (See under for hyperlinks to my evaluate of The Tempest in addition to my evaluate of the joyous, hilarious manufacturing of Shakespeare’s Pericles, which rounds out this fall’s repertory.)

Writing in the course of the Sixties, on the top of African decolonization and the American Civil Rights Motion, Césaire invitations us to see Shakespeare’s encounter between Prospero and Caliban from the angle of those that, within the years after Shakespeare’s time, had been compelled into servitude. Given Césaire’s personal West African roots, it’s hardly stunning to seek out the main target in Une Tempête is on an explicitly colonial master-slave relationship.

There are historic updates galore—for the autocratic Prospero (given greater than his due by Blackfriars veteran James Keegan), his book-learning is transformed from a mere eccentricity to a direct problem of the Catholic Church’s authority, alongside the traces of a Galileo or a Luther. There’s additionally a little bit of inside humor, as Keegan’s Prospero additionally boasts a director’s megaphone—a reminder that actors have been colonized and compelled to work for autocrats of their very own for years.

Tevin Davis as Caliban in ‘Une Tempête.’ Photograph by Anna Kariel.

The linchpin of Une Tempête, nonetheless, is Tevin Davis’s efficiency as Caliban, a job he reprises within the ASC’s manufacturing of The Tempest right here as nicely. Rising by means of the stage’s lure door, Davis is dressed as a member of the West African elite, with a headdress topped off by cowrie shells—the final word standing image from a area related to quite a few legendary African kingdoms. Caliban’s first line is the phrase uhuru (Swahili for “freedom”), a reminder that had been Caliban a historic determine, he would have had his personal language, historical past, and tradition lengthy earlier than Europeans arrived. His rejection of the title, and his insistence on being referred to by “X,” brings the unconventional facet of Prospero’s rule sharply into focus.

Césaire has a very biting wit, which sweetens his lesson and creates sufficient room for productive reflection—with fairly a couple of good stomach laughs alongside the way in which. The immortal, drunken comedy duo of Stefano and Trinculo is performed right here with shameless audacity by Erica Cruz Hernández and Annabelle Rollison. This pair are an absolute show-stopper, and Caliban’s response to those stoned and clueless European interlopers is priceless.

A centerpiece of the play, aside from Caliban’s eloquent calls for for respect, is an argument he has with Ariel about the right way to push again in opposition to Prospero’s despotism. Césaire makes a degree of getting Ariel performed by a biracial actress—a reminder of the mingling of races within the Americas, and the advanced racial hierarchy that developed in its wake. Two approaches to colonialism and bigotry meet in these two characters, with Ariel emphasizing civility and an enchantment to conscience, whereas Caliban (“X”) argues for a resort to radical violence (giving pretty much as good as you get, in different phrases).

James Keegan as Prospero and Sarah Suzuki as Miranda in ‘Une Tempête.’ Photograph by Anna Kariel.

There’s, after all, the titular storm that brings much more Europeans to the island, and there’s, after all, the anticipated romance between Miranda and the shipwrecked Ferdinand (a purely European match). However all through their courtship, their privileged place is known and foregrounded; and Césaire has a shock in retailer for us, when he modifies the ending of the play in a fashion extra suited to the precise historical past of the Caribbean the place he was born and raised.

One other scrumptious plot twist comes when the fabled Wedding ceremony Masque, with which Prospero entertains the (European) newlyweds, is interrupted by the arrival of Eshu (Brandon Carter), the snake-handling Yoruba trickster spirit, who—nicely, it’s his island, in spite of everything—overpowers the Roman ones Shakespeare normally trots out.

The musical pre-show, as all the time, has its share of basic hits (“What a Fantastic World,” “Blackbird”) but additionally options songs extra attuned to the temper of Césaire’s piece. Brandon Carter’s rendition of Nina Simone’s “I Ain’t Bought No, I Bought Life” actually units the tone for the efficiency to come back, talking because it does to the ordeal of systemic deprivation mixed with a fierce dedication to outlive.

At a time when lecturers throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia are being intimidated by a telephone line devoted to “outing” them for instructing the advanced truths of our historical past, the American Shakespeare Heart in Staunton is taking a agency stand for fact—fact in our telling of historical past, and fact in our artwork. And the place higher to begin than to deal with a Shakespeare basic, set within the Americas, by means of the lens of Aimé Césaire. His play, half tribute, half wry commentary, has as soon as once more discovered its viewers.

Une Tempête performs solely by means of November 19, in repertory with The Tempest and Pericles. Get busy, and get tickets!

Operating Time: One hour 45 minutes, with out intermission.

Une Tempête, part of American Shakespeare Heart’s Actor’s Renaissance Season, performs by means of November 19, 2022, in repertory with The Tempest and Pericles. All performances are on the Blackfriars Playhouse, 10 South Market Road, Staunton, VA. For data and tickets ($27–$60, with an possibility to enroll in the pay-what-you-will membership), go to americanshakespearecenter.com.

Credit for Une Tempête are on-line right here (click on on “solid” and on “inventive crew”).

COVID Security: American Shakespeare Heart strongly encourages patrons to masks when potential. ASC’s full COVID-19 Security Customer’s Information is right here.

A imaginative and prescient of ‘The Tempest’ for all, in rep at American Shakespeare Heart
A vividly hilarious ‘Pericles,’ in rep at American Shakespeare Heart
(critiques by Andrew Walker White, November 4, 2022)


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