Nature smiled upon Public Dreams Theatre’s opening of The Tempest and the pastoral scene at Matthews Park in Minneapolis was not suggestive of the stormy intrigue of sorcery and vengeance that was to follow. Nor was there any set on the grass awaiting the audience with allusions to a tale of shipwreck and seamen stumbling upon spirits.
But the company seemed naturally to adopt the public space and fashioned an enchanted island out of the prosaic meadow. Props were sparse and at times non-existent. It was the park/island that was the set itself, one that gave the actors occasion to flutter and meander around the uninterrupted stage, whether it be the king of Naples in search of his lost son, the enamored Miranda and Ferdinand, or sprite Ariel and monster Caliban attending to their master Prospero’s orders.
For director Benjamin S. Kutschied, in The Tempest Shakespeare appeals to two muses: landscape and language. In a production open to the public and free of charge, landscape means community and Kutschied and his company were delightfully successful in spreading their antic explorations to the spectators. The audience, children included, seemed charmed by the performers’ playfulness, and were willingly whirled along by the long-range movements afforded by the scene.
If playfulness and words drive this production, the winning scenes were delivered by two of Shakespeare’s least winsome characters: Stephano (Eric Eichenlaub) and Trinculo (Nissa Nordland). Their encounter with Caliban (Matt Riggs) bespeaks treachery, avarice, and depravity; but it is also Stephano who articulates some of the central questions in the play, questions with which we grapple today, namely what constitutes the line between natural and civilized man, and moreover, which of these two realms breeds ruthlessness and bestiality. In other words, who is the monster?
“This is some monster of the isle with four legs, who hath got, as I take it, an ague. Where the devil should he learn our language? I will give him some relief, if it be but for that. If I can recover him and keep him tame and get to Naples with him, he’s a present for any emperor that ever trod on neat’s leather.” Shakespeare chooses Stephano to convey the understanding that language represents the price incurred when civilization accomplishes the goals that inevitably appear on its path. Eichenlaub and Nordland, together with Riggs give a spirited and hilarious performance, meticulously and seductively gaining dominion over the “mooncalf” Caliban through the not-so-missing link which the bard knew all too well can conjoin the “civilized” to the “savage”: firewater
Charles Numrich’s Prospero is sober and measured throughout the performance, as master of the occult, lord over enchanted spirits, devoted father or conciliator of regal disputes. Miranda is played by the charming and sprightly Kendall Kent, and Larissa Shea is the sparkling sprite Ariel, flying effervescently on the path to freedom in obedience to Prospero’s commands. We know not what shape freedom will take either for him or for Caliban, nor, on this what is considered Shakespeare’s last play, and despite Prospero’s assuaging epilogue, are we privy to what awaits Prospero and his kin when they return to civilized Naples, but through this public production we are invited to indulge in the mischievous enactment of Shakespeare’s ripe inventiveness.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Directed by Benjamin S. Kutschied. At Matthews Park, corner of 27th Ave S & E 25th St. Minneapolis, MN. July 28 – August 1, 2012. This event is FREE and open to the public.