by Jeff Grygny
The great director Peter Brook wrote that there were four classes of theater: The deadly, the holy, the rough, and the immediate. Voices Found Repertory’s delightful interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is far from deadly, and it isn’t really holy as such. At first you might think it’s rough theater, then, which Brook calls plays that are short on budget, often performed by amateurs who stumble upon brilliance through sincerity and sheer luck. The first scene, where the mage Prospero creates the titular storm, wrecking a ship loaded with his old enemies, seems to be just actors running around yelling incomprehensibly. It’s soon clear that this isn’t ineptitude on the players’ part, but a fair rendition of an actual disaster in progress.
The Tempest, the last play that Shakespeare wrote, has everything that we love in Shakespeare: The magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the romance of Romeo and Juliet, the farce of Twelfth Night, the treachery of the histories, and the supernatural creepiness of Macbeth. All this and a message of renunciation and forgiveness, coupled with the spectacle of a court masque and a metaphysics of illusion. It’s truly a tour-de-force of the playwright’s art.
It’s so gratifying, then, to see a new generation of artists bringing their own fresh sensibility to this cultural treasure. Director Alex Metalsky, a hobbit-like fellow with a broad smile and a Hagrid-esque mass of hair, has very clear ideas about where he wants this show to go, and he largely succeeds. These ideas include audience engagement, naturalistic delivery, emotional truth, lots of humor, and some very stylized theatrical flourishes. He’s stripped the 20-character play to just five performers, who rush on and offstage to make slight changes to costume and personae. He distributes the role of Ariel, Prospero’s familiar spirit, into four players, one evidently for each of the four elements of Renaissance magic. Far from coming off as contrived, this gambit accentuates the fluid, mercurial nature of the shape-shifting spirit. The magical pageant, often omitted from productions of the play, here becomes a wonderfully downscale affair, with ukulele, a goddess in drag, and even an improbably successful hip-hop break. You really haven’t lived until you’ve heard Shakespearean verse in rap, and it works so well it’s amazing more people don’t do it.
Each player gets their own opportunity to shine: Chloe Attalla brings the sincerity and confidence of a teenager to the role of Miranda with effortless grace: her scenes with Grace Berendt as Prince Ferdinand capture something of the aching vulnerability of first love; Berendt also embodies the brittle, self-centered scheming of Prospero’s wicked brother, and shares a very funny display of classic clowning with Hannah Kubiak as a pair of drunken servants. Cory Fitzsimmons shows us the wounded creature behind Caliban’s monstrous appearance, and rocks both a fanciful headpiece and oversized sunglasses as the goddess Ceres, while William Molitor performs Prospero’s crisis of forgiveness with utter credibility.
Somehow, there’s something in twenty-first century pop culture that suits Shakespeare incredibly well. You heard it here first folks: a pastiche of pop tropes and styles skillfully blended with musicality, cartoonishness, melodrama, and moments of heartwarming honesty, mixed in with the flavors of contemporary attitudes, summons up these antique plays into vivid, rude good health. After this Tempest, you feel enriched, enlivened, and like life is worth living– which is not a bad thing to get from a work of art.
Voices Found has been in operation for seven years now. And though the personnel may change, they continue to let young artists try out their chops on classics of world theater. They reminds us that, though Shakespeare is centuries old, he yet offers a brave new world to each generation.
Voices Found Repertory
by William Shakespeare
playing through February 19