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Raw Shakespeare

Olivia & I braved the storm of wind on Saturday night to go to the St. John’s campus, where we had the great pleasure of seeing my student Tara Bradway’s theater company perform The Tempest “in the raw.”  That means minimal staging and props — we sat in chairs in a circle in a classroom space in D’Angelo Hall — and only a few hours of rehearsal time before the live run.  What the company tries to do is “return to the most basic aspects of the theater: the actors, the audience, and the words.”

The best thing about the show was watching the young actors hurl themselves into the play.  It’s a story of salvaging order from disorder, and the performers dove down with perfect abandon and trust is the theatrical transaction — that they could make us believe in storms & fairies & mooncalfs with words and motion and a few well-chosen musical instruments.  A good bet, as it turned out.

I’m a sucker for this play on almost any occasion, but I wasn’t sure how Olivia, age 8, would do on her first Shakespeare in New York.  She seemed a bit nervous too, at first, and perhaps a bit tired.  I didn’t expect her to follow all the words, but would she find enough in the story of the magician, his daughter, and the prince?  I shouldn’t have worried.  When Prospero sat down on the empty chair next to her during the show to spy on his daughter, and when I heard her laugh during the Stephano-Trinculo scenes, I could see in her face that she’d caught the theater bug.  She’s interested in a trip up north to the Adirondacks for the summer season.

Some things get lost in rawness.  A fair number of dropped lines, though the only one that I really missed was “sailor” for “tailor” in the punch line of Stephano’s first chanty, and I’m sure that bothered only me.  (In the song, mistress Kate “loved not the savor or tar nor of pitch, / But a tailor might scratch her where’r she did itch.”  You lose the land-sea joke if a sailor is the scratcher.)  Fairly often actors stepped on each other’s cues, but the recoveries came fluidly.   I did think that Prospero’s staff, at about 8′ of curved wood, was too tall & a bit ungainly.

But the pleasure of watching theater happen — watching actors trust that  words and actions create dramatic pleasure — was real and raw and moving.  A great way to spend Saturday night, well worth a late-night drive home with Olivia sleeping & the winds howling.

Next weekend in lower Manhattan — I can’t be there, but I do recommend it.

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