Thursday, August 07, 2008

Full fathom five

A couple weeks ago we made an evening of Shakespeare in the park.

I understood nothing. I still have pretty much no idea what The Tempest is about.

The set was kind of beautiful in a minimalist kind of way: shades of sand. The acting, in my humble opinion, was fairly weak. In part this was brought into relief by the setting, not the usual crates-for-a-stage on a flat piece of land, but a steel and concrete amphitheatre on a man-made lake — voices simply don't carry well.

On top of this, most of the actors are bilingual, with noticeable accents. And the accents are varied, giving the play an uneven texture. I wonder if some of the cast doesn't perform more strongly in French.

These drawbacks impeded my understanding of the play. The fullest impression I have about The Tempest is what I picked up from John: the idea of God as castaway. Through this filter I managed to make some sense of the language and dynamics, to create in my own head a narrative that had some meaning for me.

The thing about an event is that the circumstances, context, and sideshows add so much colour to the main attraction. In that respect, it was a wonderful evening. We watched the ducks in the lake. We eavesdropped on, and even participated in, spontaneous conversations among strangers in line. A young man got off his bike and climbed a tree to swing from a high branch by his knees and monkey around a bit before getting back on his bike and riding off. We heard a Latin jazz band playing on the other side of the park.

Then the play started. (I was scolded by park personnel for taking pictures. As fate would have have it, the resulting pictures are blurry and unremarkable.)

We had popcorn.

We talked about how Lost might've sprang from a Tempest concept.

Everything Helena knows about Shakespeare she knows from Doctor Who. She recognized Sycorax.

During intermission, the cast popped out to beg for donations. Caliban pranced around Helena a bit — she played at being terrorized, but was thrilled. Not many theatre-goers have been tickled by Caliban.

So, for Shakespeare in the park, Helena stayed up late; she wanted to stay to the end. We did, and we loved it.

1 comment:

Duane said...

I love The Tempest so much I tell it to my children (6, 4 and 2) as a bedtime story. Little girl lives on a faraway island with her father, who learns that she is a princess? A prince shows up on the island to marry her and take her back to his castle? "Bad guys" (Stefano and Trinculo), with the help of the monster Caliban, try and fail to take over the island? And of course there's the magical assistant Ariel. And everybody lives happily ever after. I've always said it's got the makings of a Disney feature.