Sunday, September 5, 2010

New Theatre: The Tempest (3 reviews)

New Theater opened its production of Shakespeare's The Tempest on September 2, 2010.
Stranded on a deserted island with his daughter, a usurped duke is granted his chance at revenge. By invoking a storm, he shipwrecks the man who ruined him. Also among the passengers is the young man who awakens his daughter's first stirrings of love.
Adapted from Shakespeare by John Manzelli, who directed a cast that included Stephen Neal, Patrice DeGraff-Arenas, Robert Strain, Kevin Reilley, Ronald Mangravite, Rusty Allison, Avi Hoffman, and Hugh Murphy.

Roger Martin reviewed for
Stephen Neal's Prospero is strong right out of the hut. No problem here with Shakespeare. Ronald Mangravite shows a dour Antonio, and Kevin Reilley seems made for Sebastian. Just watch him. Patrice DeGraff-Arenas as Ariel is more painted cannibal than free spirit and Robert Strain's Caliban could hardly be called a monster. Angry, yes, monstrous no.
And then here comes Avi Hoffman as the drunken sailor Stephano and suddenly we're watching a new TEMPEST, all we've seen before forgotten as we delight in an actor who simply owns the theatre.
John Manzelli has directed well, but the show is constrained by the small space and the unevenness of the cast.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...director-adapter John Manzelli's edited version of the bard's great late-career play is more efficient than inspired -- not that fitting Shakespeare's sprawling, multicharacter plays onto New Theatre's tiny stage is ever easy. The magic-filled story does get told, in just over two hours, by a dozen actors. But overall, this Tempest proves only intermittently engaging.
Neal has a voice made for Shakespeare, mellifluous and commanding, so for all of Prospero's manipulative flaws, he remains clearly the focal and most vibrant character. DeGraff-Arenas, in a traditionally male role, is a curvy, squeaky-voiced presence who imbues Ariel with boundless energy. Strain's Caliban is more crazily irritated than menacing.

Among the washed-up Italian bad guys, the strongest performances come from Ronald Mangravite as Prospero's forever-scheming brother Antonio and Hugh M. Murphy as Alonso, the king who allowed Antonio to claim his brother's title. Avi Hoffman makes a scene-stealing New Theatre debut as Stephano, the more drunken of Shakespeare's clowns, providing the most watchably entertaining moments in the production.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for South Florida Theatre Review:
Director John Manzelli has worked hard with a cast of dedicated actors, some quite capable, some striving to be so. In fact, the overall production is one of the better Shakespearean efforts locally in several years (to be brutal, there isn’t much competition). But there isn’t any transporting magic or overwhelming passion. The only time the play and the players truly escape the bonds of the text is when Avi Hoffman takes the stage as Stephano, one of the comic shipwrecked sailors.
(Stephen) Neal is a formidable actor who has been a standout in New Theatre’s previous Shakespearean outings. He is comfortable with the complex verbiage and his sonorous baritone enunciates the words clearly... But he just doesn’t possess the regal majesty, banked passion and mystical power that Prospero must wield.
The most intriguing element in the production is Manzelli transporting the tale to a Polynesian/Caribbean isle in the time of Edwardian England when Britain was an unchallenged superpower. Manzelli has persuasively created a credible subtext condemning paternalistic colonization by casting Ariel and Caliban as enslaved Africans native to the island.
But his real success is in the physicality of the production, the sight gags, the staging and the body language. That last is underscored by DeGraff-Arenas, doubling as choreographer, who has Ariel scamper about with stylized Martha Graham movements...
On the positive side, New Theatre’s creative staff under Manzelli’s hand produces an evocative environment with very little money. The island setting by Elaine Bryan is a beach surrounded by granite cliffs, Travis Neff’s lighting changes the mood as needed and K. Blair Brown creates quirky ragtag costumes for the castaways, although Miranda seems to have been shopping at the mall on the other side of the island. Aspecial kudo goes to Matt Corey’s atmospheric soundscape ranging from magical swooshes to exotic jungle drums.
The Tempest plays at New Theatre through September 19, 2010.

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