Monday, June 25, 2012

Hell is empty and the devils are here!

Betcha thought I was going to do a rant on religion when you read that title, eh?  Well, I hate to disappoint, but that's a line from William Shakespeare's The Tempest.  You know Shakespeare, right?  He also wrote such famous works as Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and a bunch of sonnets that some people think proves that he was gay.

Turns out this Shakespeare fella still has a bit of a following, and there are Shakespeare festivals all around the world.  The closest one to me is CalShakes.  For our 10th anniversary, my wife bought us season tickets.  The plays are The Tempest, Spunk, Blithe Spirit, and Hamlet.  No, the middle two aren't Shakespeare plays.  I'm fairly certain that it's pretty common for these things to have some non-Shakespeare works as part of the program.

I'm most excited about Hamlet since that's probably in my top five favorite things ever written, along with the facts that I've taught it for several years and seen many movie versions of it.  The two non-Shakespeare plays I don't know, but after reading about them, they certainly seem interesting, and I'm sure that I'll be entertained.  As for The Tempest?  That's one with which I am mostly unfamiliar.  I knew that there was a guy named Prospero and he was some kind of magician, and I also knew that it involved an island and some sort of tempest.  Beyond that, it was a new one for me.

I decided that I wanted to read it first, since sometimes that Shakespeare fella's language can be a bit confusing; however, if I go in with some familiarity, then I'm able to follow along pretty well.  I'll be honest though - for as much as I like Shakespeare, I don't know if I can say that I enjoy sitting down and reading his plays all by myself.  Ideally, I'd have a bunch of my friends with me, and we'd all pick parts and read it together.  I don't think that this is so strange, as the man wasn't trying to write novels.  He was writing for the stage, and it was meant to be heard out loud.

Basically what I'm saying is that I only got through about 1/4 of it.  I brought it with me to the play though, and since we arrived early, I was able to get through about the 2/3 point.  I figured that would be good enough for me to follow along and know who's who and what's what.

So, what did I think?  I loved it.  While the characters seemed interesting enough on the page, seeing some good actors bring them to life really did the trick for me.  This was especially true in the scene where Ariel, a fairy, pleaded with Prospero to free her from his service.  Erika Chong Shuch was able to create a character that was believable as a fairy-tale creature but still had some genuine emotions that made me empathize with her.

I've been to a few performances at CalShakes before, and I haven't always liked all the actors.  This one though?  I don't think that there was a weak link in the bunch.  Everybody did their parts rather well - which is really saying something considering that many of them played multiple roles (and I'm not just talking minor characters here - they'd jump from one major part to the next, and sometimes they'd do their costume changes right there on the stage, but the director did a good job of keeping the audience focused on something else as that would happen, then BOOM, the actor would be a different character!)

As is usual, a lot was cut out of the text.  I usually don't mind that, but I was looking forward to seeing the part of Gonzalo, as he was rather amusing; however, his part was completely cut.  Also, they tossed in a few lines and modern references.  That sort of a thing can get tedious, but the director reigned it in and saved it for the comedic bits, which is where it works best.  (I suppose I could check the text, but I have a feeling that Shakespeare didn't make a reference to tilapia in the original.)

For those who don't know the play, I'm not going to get into a plot summary, but let's just say that the play is neither a comedy nor is it a tragedy.  It's considered to be one of Shakespeare's romance plays.  If you're only familiar with the first two though, then it definitely leans heavier toward what you find in the comedies.  There are a lot of laughs and everything gets wrapped up rather nicely instead of a bloodbath.  The main theme that I picked up on dealt with forgiveness being preferable to revenge, as Prospero starts off rather bitter and angry at the beginning, but witnessing his daughter fall in love tends to soften his heart a bit.

There's also a nice bit where Prospero addresses the audience directly, and from the reading I've done, this has been taken as Shakespeare's way of inserting his own thoughts rather directly into it.  The director added a nice bit to all that as Prospero tries to turn on a light bulb using magic.  However, since he has given up his magical powers, it obviously doesn't work for him.  So, what does he do?  He walks up to it and flips the switch.  It was a pretty powerful statement on how theater is like magic in a sense, and when it's all over, we have to go back to playing by the rules of the real world.
We are such stuffAs dreams are made on; and our little lifeIs rounded with a sleep.

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