Sunday, July 10, 2011

Theater feature: PB Shakespeare Festival returns to magic of 'The Tempest'

Katherine Seldin as Miranda and Kevin Crawford
as Prospero in The Tempest.

By Hap Er

Twenty years ago,‭ ‬in Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival’s second season,‭ ‬the company took its first crack at‭ ‬The Tempest,‭ ‬the tale of an exiled Milanese duke who seeks revenge on his enemies through sorcery.

Playing young Prince Ferdinand back then was‭ ‬20-year-old Kevin Crawford,‭ ‬in his first involvement with the play,‭ “‬back when I could still get away with playing young princes,‭” ‬he notes.‭

Now a professor of English and theater at Georgia’s Reinhardt University,‭ ‬Crawford spends his summers in Palm Beach County as artistic director of the Shakespeare Festival and,‭ ‬this year,‭ ‬playing aged Duke Prospero.

As he says of the play,‭ “‬I think it’s pretty top-drawer,‭ ‬and a crowd-pleaser.‭ ‬The reason it’s been so long since we’ve done it is I did it so many times when I was younger,‭ ‬I got tired of it.‭”

Still,‭ ‬when it came to choosing a work for the group’s annual Shakespeare-by-the-Sea at Jupiter’s Carlin Park Amphitheatre,‭ ‬Crawford and technical director/scenic designer Daniel Gordon agreed that it was‭ ‬time again for‭ ‬The Tempest.‭ “‬It‭’‬s the‭ ‬400th anniversary year of the play’s first performance,‭” ‬reports Crawford,‭ ‬excuse enough for a new production.‭

While many refer to‭ ‬The Tempest as Shakespeare’s last completed play,‭ ‬Crawford calls it more accurately the Bard’s‭ “‬final non-collaborative effort for the stage.‭” ‬The distinction‭? “‬He wrote other plays after‭ ‬‘The Tempest‭’‬ with junior company playwrights,‭” ‬says Crawford.‭ “‬Like what we now call‭ ‘‬Henry VIII,‭’ ‘‬Two Noble Kinsmen‭’‬ and a play based on the life of Sir Thomas More.‭”

Last script or not,‭ ‬The Tempest feels like a swan song to the theater,‭ ‬for Shakespeare includes numerous concluding statements about stagecraft.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬Crawford cautions against making too much of it.‭ “‬Yeah,‭ ‬it’s very easily read that way,‭ ‬but it’s a very romantic notion.‭ ‬That story didn’t get floated around until the late‭ ‬18th or early‭ ‬19th century,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬And this play was just perfect for the idea of him saying goodbye to the stage,‭ ‬with such ideas as Prospero breaking his staff is Shakespeare breaking his pen.‭ ‬But he continued to work actively for a number of years after.‭”

It is also usually taught that Prospero is a stand-in for Shakespeare himself.‭ “‬I never bought it,‭ ‬but it’s very,‭ ‬very easy to see that,‭” ‬notes Crawford,‭ ‬whose production will emphasize the dark side of the character.‭ “‬Prospero really is a despicable man on some levels.‭ ‬He was stupid enough to lose the dukedom in the first place.‭ ‬He does enslave other characters in the play.‭ ‬He makes people think that their children are dead.‭”

Unlike many Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival shows,‭ ‬which transport the play to offbeat places and times,‭ ‬this‭ ‬Tempest will not be set in a definite locale.‭ “‬The stage will be mostly bare with a simple series of ramps and platforms,‭” ‬says Crawford.‭ “‬It’s not set in the caves of Bora Bora,‭ ‬there is no beach,‭ ‬no water line.‭ ‬I think most‭ ‬20th-century productions,‭ ‬post-1950,‭ ‬1960,‭ ‬have been interested in a post-colonial reading of it:‭ ‬that this is all about white people going to uncharted territory and taking it over,‭ ‬putting their white European stamp on it.‭

“That’s fine,‭ ‬but that’s definitely not where we’re going with this,‭” ‬he said.

Prospero is a sorcerer and many modern productions have emphasized magical effects,‭ ‬but Crawford is resisting that impulse,‭ ‬too.‭ “‬I think the magical effects will mostly be suggested through mime and sound,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬I think there’s something powerful about someone raising their hand and a sound effect.‭ ‬The audience just accepts that he made a lightning strike.‭”

The simplicity of the production might be read as a reflection of the downbeat economy,‭ ‬but Crawford says it is really a test for next summer,‭ ‬when the Festival hopes to tour its production‭ ‬--‭ ‬probably‭ ‬Twelfth Night‭ ‬--‭ ‬to Hawaii.

To build up its treasury for‭ ‬2012,‭ ‬the company contemplated instituting an admission charge instead of its tradition of free performances.‭ “‬Ultimately,‭ ‬we all came around to the idea of keeping it as free as possible for our audiences,‭” ‬says Crawford.‭

‭“‬There are some people who come out almost every night with their family,‭ ‬because it’s free.‭ ‬But as they’ve told us,‭ ‬they simply can’t afford to come out all that often if there’s an admission fee.‭ ‬So we’ve kept it at free admission with a suggested donation of‭ ‬$5‭ ‬or whatever you want to put into the wishing well.‭”

THE TEMPEST.‭ ‬Palm Beach Shakespeare‭ ‬Festival,‭ ‬Seabreeze Amphitheatre,‭ ‬A1A and Indiantown Road,‭ ‬Carlin Park,‭ ‬Jupiter.‭ ‬Thursday-Sunday,‭ ‬July‭ ‬14-17‭ ‬and‭ ‬21-24.‭ ‬Admission free,‭ ‬with suggested donation of‭ ‬$5.‭ ‬Call:‭ ‬(561‭) ‬963-6755.

No comments: