Reviewed by George Basler
“Oh, what brave new world that has such people in it” is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous, and quoted, lines.
Little did the Bard know that, one day, that passage from The Tempest could refer to a hologram, a monstrous cybernetic-controlled creature and a group of travelers marooned on a distance planet following a meteor storm.
Such is the case with Tempest 3000, which is running this weekend( (March 6-8) at the Endicott Performing Arts Center. The production is an inventive, if uneven, merger of Shakespeare with science fiction elements straight out of cheesy films of the 1950s.
Credit director Matt Gaska with the chutzpah to come up with the imaginative concept. Some of the production’s strong points are the extremely effective sound and lighting elements — developed by Gaska, lighting director Lorraine Tennant and sound man Alex Tennant — that place audience members squarely in a Star Trek world.
Gaska also has pruned the text and changed the gender of some characters. Prospero, the play’s protagonist, is now Prospera. But, outer space setting aside, the EPAC production is a pretty traditional staging of Shakespeare’s play. The EPAC cast members must cope with one of the Bard’s most difficult and complex works. They make a commendable effort to do so, but the results are mixed.
While parts of the production, notably the comic parts, were spirited and fun, other parts dragged a bit on opening night because of pacing problems. Despite the dead spots, however, the EPAC production is a pleasurable one.
Staging The Tempest in outer space is actually not as far-fetched an idea as you might imagine (think Forbidden Planet), and Shakespeare’s original is filled with mystical elements of its own. Prospero, a deposed duke with magical powers, is living on a small island in the middle of nowhere with his dutiful daughter, Miranda. Also living on the island are Caliban, a monster whom Prospero has vanquished, and Ariel, a lively spirit who serves at Prospero’s command.
Prospero uses his magical powers to cause a shipwreck that deposits a group of travelers on the island. They include Prospero’s treacherous brother, Antonio; the equally villainous Sebastian; Alonso, the Duke of Naples, and Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, who is love struck by Miranda.
In Gaska’s staging, the island is now a remote planet. The ship is a spaceship. The characters carry ray guns instead or swords. Ariel is a powerful hologram, AR3L (Augmented Real-Time Replicated Reality Light-form). Caliban remains a monster. Ferdinand and Miranda remain the play’s cute couple. And the main plot remains as convoluted as ever, centering on various machinations by Prospera and planned betrayals by Antonio and Sebastian.
Dianna Wayman gives a commanding performance as Prospera, making the character’s anger and bitterness readily apparent at the start of the play. The one drawback of her performance is a tendency to shout lines at some points. A little subtlety would have helped.
Fortunately, this subtlety is on display in the final scenes when Prospera sets aside her anger and embraces forgiveness. Wayman plays this transformation effectively as she catches the power of Shakespeare’s poetry.
Jada Newman and Chelsea Packard do the best they can with Miranda and Ferdinand, but they can’t overcome the fact that the characters are paper thin.
As Ariel — excuse me, AR3L — Jamie Cook gives a spirited, over-the-top performance that channels both Boy George (remember him?) and contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. And his costume, filled with gaudy lights, is a real eye-catcher and hoot by itself.
Some of the production’s best moments are the interplay between Caleb Park as the unfortunate Caliban and Eli Carlin and Scott Newman as two befuddled servants who have also washed up on the island. Their skill with Shakespeare’s comic language provides both laughs and chuckles. Park is a whirling dervish of misdirected energy as the hapless Caliban while Carlin and Newman are fine buffoons.
Ultimately Tempest 3000 is a solid effort that highlights the power of forgiveness. And that’s a worthwhile message whether the play takes place on a remote island or in a galaxy far, far away.
IF YOU GO: The final performance is at 3 p.m. today (Sunday, March 8) in the Endicott Performing Arts Center’s Robert Eckert Theater, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott. Tickets are $20 $18 for seniors and children).