July 28, 2012 Matinee reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
It is with joy that one can cheer Olympia Dukakis’ and Tony Simotes’ version of The Tempest now playing at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox. They have taken risks that could have been disastrous. These included not least the changing of the sex of the leading character, the time in which the events in the play occur moved to the 20th century, and the locale changed to a Mediterranean island. None of this mattered. Instead, for the play, it added only joy and deliverance. Anyone not familiar with Shakespeare’s original version could well have believed that the play was exactly as written and originally played.
As staged in its current version, the magic words are still there, the marvelously limned characters still speak them and the stage is awash with discovery and a strange joy. The setting is simple, the stage relatively bare, one tall bare tree sufficing for many glorious opportunities. Other slight bits were effortlessly risen from the floor or whirled in by the actors. Stage-filling musical numbers whirled in opposing groups with their agenda—demanding changes or plotting to recover territory lost.
In the midst of it all, the innocence of the juvenile love scene between Miranda (Merritt Janson) and Ferdinand (Ryan Winkles) was played with such naivete that one could literally feel behind it the will of Prospera (Olympia Dukakis) hoping it to evolve into the daughter she loved becoming Queen of Naples.
In costuming one delights in that of the anemic Caliban, (Rocco Sisto) his skin washed to baby-like contrast to that of any other on stage. Shakespeare gave him the (at times) the innocence of those marvelous lines, the isle full of noises of which he cried to dream again. Director Tony Simotes gave him the stage location from which to deliver them. Of such moments is a beautiful play made.
Music seemed to wash over the whole play, and the stage again and again was filled with groups of valiant women abetting Prospera or other groups plotting conquest and ruin.
Every actor could, and should be mentioned and praised and is so in this brief hurrah as is praise for those in the theatrical arts contributing to this inspired joyous production. Each could be singled out such as Ariel (Kristin Wold, light as a feather) or Gonzalo (Apollo Dukakis ever ready with sane, calm observation) or Jonathan Epstein as the uproarious Stephano, butler to the King of Naples (Thomas A. Rindge, a deserving loser.) These and more deserve mention.
As for Olympia Dukakis, she knew what she wanted the play to say and saw that the play and her lines said it with controlled intensity. Her mother love in which she told her daughter of her previous life vibrated through the play in all the scenes that followed. Musing on the play as he drove me home, my son remarked, “And to think that when it was played in Shakespeare’s day, if the character had been changed to Prospera, it would have been played by a man.” And that boggles the mind. Rejoice that in the current production we have Olivia Dukakis playing it.