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William Shakespeare's

October 20, 2014, 7:30 pm

Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street

Directed by Jesse Berger


Featuring Michael Cerveris as Prospero


with De'Adre Aziza, Clifton Duncan, Angel Desai, Sean Patrick Doyle, Sherman Howard, Carman Lacivita, Drew Ledbetter, Steven Rattazzi, Matthew Rauch, Jay O. Sanders, Stephen Spinella, Raphael Nash Thompson, Auden Thornton, Michael Urie, Marc Vietor, and more


With original live music by Greg Pliska

Revenge can cause quite a commotion. Full of power and poetry, Shakespeare’s final play is a magical tale of shipwrecks and storms, of justice and mercy, and, ultimately, life and art. This funny, immaginative and hauntingly beautiful work brings Red Bull Theater back to its founding roots with Shakespearean romance at its pinnacle.


On a remote and mysterious island, Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, conjures up a storm and a violent shipwreck to trap his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso on the island. And thus begins his plot to restore his beloved daughter Miranda to her rightful place, using his powerful Art. With spirits, monsters, and drunken fools, Shakespeare weaves a powerful spell of reconciliation. This magical story of old endings and new beginnings is the perfect way to say bon voyage to Red Bull Theater's first decade and launch our second decade of innovative classical theater.


“O brave new world, that has such people in it!



First performed in 1611, The Tempest reverberates with echoes of Shakespeare’s earlier plays: troubles borne of treacherous brothers, a retreat to a pastoral idyll, a father warily eyeing his marriageable daughter’s prospects, and magical forces embedded in both the landscape and its inhabitants. Yet the play turns these apparently familiar elements into something new and strange.  Prospero’s domain is no lush garden or forest, but an island edged by unpredictable seas, and instead of blithe shepherds or feuding fairies, its ecosystem includes storms, snakes, harpies, monsters, and multiple assassination plots.  If these threats loom darkly only to dissipate, the island’s otherworldly pleasures – songs, masques, magic, and startlingly poetic language – prove similarly evanescent, all ephemeral products of the stage itself.  As Prospero reminds us, “These our actors… were all spirits and/ Are melted into air, into thin air.”


Like the island, with its uncertain threats and promises, Prospero and his magic are morally ambiguous.  In his manipulation of the natural world, Prospero evokes the dark necromancy of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, as well as the scheming ambitions of Jonson’s Alchemist.  Far from suppressing these specters, Shakespeare heightens them, especially when Prospero reflects on his magical charms in a long soliloquy conspicuously lifted from Ovid’s Medea. On the surface the passage invokes Medea’s dangerous powers in order to refute them; Prospero closes by abjuring his rough magic.  Yet in ventriloquizing a murderous, barbarian sorceress, a kinswoman of sorts to Sycorax, Prospero also emphasizes his identification with this troubling figure, complicating the play’s apparent orchestration of sympathies.


The play’s ambiguities are built into its unusual performance history.  Appearing shortly after Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, began a new lease at the upmarket indoor Blackfriars Theater, the play was staged not only for the large popular audiences of the Globe, and a more rarefied elite at the court of King James, but also for the knowing sophisticates who frequented the Blackfriars, where the repertory emphasized sly wit and avant-garde experimentation. Even within its tightly compressed setting and time-frame – which uncharacteristically adhere to the so-called unities of time, space, and action – the play embraces these contraries with its tonal complexity, its amphibious hybrid creatures, and its hybrid genre, fusing pastoral comedy with revenge tragedy, masque, and other dramatic forms. The Tempest has dazzled, divided, and puzzled audiences for over four centuries, but if the play is a kind of dream, as Prospero suggests, we may find our best model of response in Caliban. “And then, in dreaming,” he tells Stephano and Trinculo, “The clouds methought would open and show riches/ Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,/ I cried to dream again.”  The play’s mysteries will never resolve into a singular meaning, but its tantalizing riches are there to be enjoyed whenever we enter its dreamlike world.


- Tanya Pollard, Professor of English, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY




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