by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jason Slavik
Boston Theatre Works
BCA Cyclorama, 527 Tremont, Boston / (617) 9312 - ARTS
through Feb. 13

Reviewed by Will Stackman

Several seasons ago, Boston Shakespeare veteran Will LeBow, now appearing in "The Rivals" at the Huntington, played Prospero for CSC in a rather jumbled and dampened production on the Boston Common. Nevertheless, he managed to hold the show together. Similarly Shakespeare & Co. veteran and Norton winner Jonathan Epstein salvages Boston Theatre Works' transplanted production of "The Tempest" running in the Cyclorama, a huge space at the Boston Center for the Arts. The show, originally scheduled for the intimate confines of the Tremont, a converted street-level restaurant near the Wang Center, had to be relocated after someone drove their car through the plate glass. Owned by Tuft's New England Medical center, this venue managed by a Chinese cultural organization may not reopen. While vast--literally--possibilities are opened by using the Cyclorama, its acoustic difficulties are almost insurmountable.

Nevertheless, this production turns out to be worth seeing for the power and craft of Epstein's performance. He gets help from two young actresses in the show. Susannah Millonzi a lithe Barnard undergraduate actress/dancer who's worked with S&C embodies Ariel. She and Epstein display a real bond during the show, moving the sprite's cry for freedom to the front of the action. Brown grad Elizabeth Hayes's Miranda, Prospero's daughter, has tomboy charm, as one might expect since she did the young heroine in "The Spitfire Grill" last year. Her Shakespeare credits include a Witch in "Macbeth" and Iras in "Antony & Cleopatra", both for BTW, plus Juliet in last summer's unique coffee-house staging at M.I.T. Both woman can generally be heard, through Millonzi has a bit of trouble as the Harpy. Of course she's sitting on Epstein's shoulders wearing a Garuda mask. Director Jason Slavik has Kortney Adams and Spencer S. Christie--the show's factotuums--who are holding the monster's wings chime in fairly soon, and Epstein participates as well, so the all-important accusations come across clearly.

The shipwrecked nobility don't do as well. Douglass Bowen-Flynn who plays Antonio the usurping brother; Richard La France who's Sebastian, his henchman; Bill Molnar, King Alonzo, the hero's father, and Gerald Slattery, Gonzalo, his councilor, all appeared outdoors for the Publick Theatre this summer. Each has had other Shakespearean roles, though Slattery seems to benefited most from his, several school tours for Shakespeare Now!. Though this quartet can generally be heard, their roles are as undistinguished as their costumes based on late 19th century naval uniforms. Molnar's voice has very little authority, Bowen-Flynn seems too modern, La France suggests scheming but little menace, while Slattery is more one-note than his old man requires, though of the four he has the most character. And Ferdinand, the King's presumably lost son played by Ben Lambert is even more disappointing. He looks the part, but in spite of playing a believable Lysander in Publick Theatre's "Twelfth Night" two summers ago, he misses the poetry here, mistaking declamation for earnestness and tending to monotony.

The comic roles fare somewhat better, though they have little to relate to. S&C regular Allyn Burrows, seen as Clarence in ASC's inaugural production of "Richard III" in October, plays the drunkard butler Stephano with appropriate pomposity.and careful delivery. His companion, Trinculo, usually thought of as a jester, is played by peripetaticNeil A. Casey seen in "The Violet Hour" in Stoneham this fall. The latter is costumed as a cook and keeps taking hits off a can of RediWhip. The pair is of course joined by the fantastical Caliban, played by dancer Sarah Hickler, who's been seen with both S&C and the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company. Her mannered interpretation of the monster has almost no menace, so the entire escapade with the three is a series of comic turns, well executed but of little significance. Their physical comedy is clear even if some of the banter gets lost. It's hard to forget Thomas Derrah's angry flopping freak from the CSC production mentioned earlier

Costuming doesn't do much to lift this production, which sorely needs it. One suspects that Epstein borrowed his velvets from Lenox, while uniforms can be rented a few blocks away. Ariel's silver body suit and draperies are adequate, as are Caliban's rags and netting. Miranda's shift could be perked up a little, while her shoes don't help her movement on the marley. Perhaps even Gail Astrid Buckley can't work miracles on a shoestring. Warren Levenson's guitar score is appropriate, though better speaker placement would keep the strange aires from competing with the dialogue. The directorial style Slavik has honed in his past two Shakespearian productions doesn't translate too well into the expanse of the Cyclorama; entrances become too long. He needs to look at other barebones productions, especially those where the troupe stays onstage much of the time. And to remember why most such shows use a few bits of basic movable multiuse furniture, as he has in fact in the past.

This production will be presented to several hundred high school students attending morning productions during the run. Providing they've actually read the play, the acoustical problems shouldn't interfere with their experience as a first rate Shakespearean actor takes command of a large space and their attention. And Epstein'll be doing so in daylight, since the high domed ceiling of the Cyclorama, built to display a quarter-scale panorama of the Battle of Gettysburg, has windows encircling its perimeter and a skylight. He’ll have no trouble shining.

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