Wrapping up our tour of this year’s SSC festival, we bundled up for a nighttime performance of The Tempest, an atmospheric bit of surrealism-in-the-redwoods. Thanks to ingenious visuals by costume designer Brandin Barón and lighting design by David Lee Cuthbert, this Tempest sparkled with eye candy. And once again, the most interesting part of seeing all the plays this year is the chance to experience the deep texture created by the repertory casting. As Prospero, the shipwrecked Duke of Milan, James Winker reminds us, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” But just last week, I’d been regaled by Winker as the linguistically inept Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. The same dramatic resonance occurs in the case of Prospero’s daughter, Miranda – played by Barbara Suiter, who also plays the much maligned Hero in Much Ado. The Tempest‘s splendid Caliban is played by Omar Ricks, whose singing enchants Much Ado audiences. The repertory casting lets us watch the range of the actors across at least two separate dramatic scripts. And the glen, as always, more than earns its reputation as a magical performance space — a softly hooting owl high up in the trees added a touch of “brave new world” fantasy during last Saturday’s performance.
Wanting to sink into Shakespeare’s strange saga of humans, gods, beasts and spirits, I found myself distracted by uncertain direction and a few casting issues. Winker and Suiter, as the impassioned wizard Duke and his innocent daughter, seemed only remotely related to each other. We need to believe in the strength of their bond in order for Prospero’s motivation to take hold. Suiter seemed to be playing Miranda as a very saucy contemporary woman, and unleashed the exact set of mannerisms she uses as Hero. The effect is quite distracting. Winker is an intelligent actor, yet his physical type — reedy, thin, high-pitched voice (obviously hoarse from the rigors of his two roles) — plays against the gravitas and rage required of Prospero.
As silvery faun-sprite Ariel, Aric Martin (pictured above) — in all his gossamer sheen — was absolutely enchanting. The force of his own belief in his character — the prototype for Startrek‘s android Data, who wistfully desires to be human — kindled our own suspension of disbelief. He brought a delicious other-worldly counterpoint to the nighttime forest.
When you go see The Tempest, don’t forget to bring lots and lots of layers – extra sweaters, jackets, hats and blankets. It gets cold in the glen.