Sunday, April 1, 2012

Another Trip Into The Tempest

Off The Wall’s Latest Shakespeare

By Russ Bickerstaff
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White, Gutzman and Miller

 

The fun thing about Shakespeare is its multiplicity. Each show has at least two or three sets of characters in various plot entanglements. If one end of a production isn’t doing terribly well, there’s invariably some other end of it that’s remarkable.

And so it is that Off The Wall Theatre takes a journey into The Tempest. One of my personal favorites, I’ve never really been satisfied with a whole production of the script. This is no exception, but there are ends of this production that make me enjoy parts of the script I hadn’t had an opportunity to enjoy until this production.

Director Dale Gutzman plays Prospero. The old man on an island who practices magic is seen here to be particularly tormented. Gutzman occasionally hits really heavy dramatic moments that feel remarkably compelling.

Marilyn White plays his servant spirit Ariel. It’s an interesting choice made there . . . she’s dressed much more formally than anyone else in the production. She looks positively regal and magestic in comparison to everyone else . . . in imagining her doing what she does in the world beyond the stage, one gets the image of some form of fairy world royalty . . . a goddess of fire perhaps. It’s an interesting idea, but it feels a bit more at odds with traditional conceptions of the character . . . I found myself working a bit harder at trying to form White into Ariel, which is strange considering what a good job she did in the role . . .

Karl Miller plays the baser end of servitude to Prospero as Caliban. The primitive brute of a character inflates Miller to something like 150% his normnal stage presence, which is really fun to watch, but doesn’t quite live-up to my preconceptions of the character. He’s more goblin than demon here, but much like watching White as Ariel, it’s an interesting challenge of my expectations . . .

By far my favorite aspect of this play is pretty much what I’d expected it to be . . . Liz Mistele is one of my favorite local actresses. Here she’s playing Prospero’s daughter Miranda. She’s a girl who never really saw more than a few people before in her life suddenly laying eyes on and falling in love with a castaway on the island. The element always felt kind of weak and tacked-on to me . . . like Shakespeare needed to have a more traditional romantic element in the plot to satisfy certain commercial necessities. It never felt all that integral to the plot, but Mistele makes it so much fun to watch. She’s playing the character very intelligent and thoughtful, but with an irresistibly charming reverence towards the unknown whenever she encounters it. Her enthusiasm in the role is infectious and holds up well more than its end of the plot for me . . . but again, she’s one of my favorite actresses, so I kind of expected that.

There’s some otherelements here that work quite well . . . I rather like Jeremy C. Welter as Trinculo . . . the clown buffoon. He’s playing the character as an extravagantly effeminate fop. That this is entertaining at all without being in any way offensive says a great deal about Welter’s talents.

Liz Mistele as Prospero's daughter with her love interest

Off The Wall’s production of The Tempest  runs through April 7th at Off The Wall’s space on 127 East Wells Street. For ticket reservations, call 414-327-3552. 

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