Guest director Adrian Hall has put “The Tempest” in a teapot. This isn’t some big, brash, bold, provocative interpretation, such as Hall has been known for in his earlier work. It’s small and monochromatic and poorly motivated.
The setting is no Fantasy Island, where Prospero and Miranda, exiled from Milan, were swept ashore 12 years before. It’s yellow, parched and barren, windswept with tumbleweed foliage, furnished with movable stairs, a broken-down wagon and a wooden armoire. What?
Wait, there’s more. Caliban, the monstrous servant of Prospero, the weirdo son-of-a-witch, has his shoes riveted to foot-stools, and he stumbles around like Frankenstein on stilts.
Ariel, the nimble sprite, wears shapeless shorts, a swim cap and wire-rim glasses. Occasionally a wild, white fright wig. And once, a Madonna-metal bra and metal nose. Somebody seems to have lost their eye in the storm.
Do we understand the reasons for these odd directorial choices? We do not. Do they enhance the story or action? Far from it. They all seem arbitrary and intrusive, and not overly attractive. In the esthetic appearance department, we are treated to a delicate, diaphanous Miranda with little personality, and a bevy of scantily clad male spirits, who sport small diapers and large muscles.
Don’t even ask about the giant straw puppet. Or the tutu on the drunken Trinculo. Or the 12-foot fan that creates the opening storm. It may be the only fan this production gets.
On the plus side, there are the Richards — Globe regulars Richard Easton, who plays an avuncular, though unmagical and strongly vengeful Prospero. And Richard Kneeland, who, as Stephano, makes a fine drunken butler. As his sidekick and fall-guy, Trinculo, Allen McCalla provides the only comic — or other — relief.
Sean Murray is an agile Ariel, but a rather somber one. The very talented Murray seems to be moving between fairies, just having done a stupendous job with Frank N. Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show.” But his character seems poorly defined here. The light and loving Ariel seems to take no joy in his magic or his singing. Neither actor nor character seems to be having much fun.
If the truth be known, neither is the audience. Sure, the actors often speak those wonderful lines while standing stock-still and facing us rather than each other. But that leaves us high and dry. I’d rather be deluged with the fantasy, magic and music of the piece than set adrift in a production with no obvious anchor.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.