In my dramaturgical research for The Tempest, I was delighted when I stumbled upon blog entries written by actors during the rehearsal process for Globe Theatre in London’s three-actor production of the play in 2005. I found those entries profoundly informative, since the actors not only discussed their interpretation of the characters and their understanding of the play’s meaning, but addressed the challenges of manifesting those ideas physically in the production. So, when Professor Mentz offered to have us blog about our production at the Cutting Ball Theatre in San Francisco, which begins previews on November 5, I was delighted. I hope that these entries provide an interesting and worthwhile supplement to the course.
Our director, Rob Melrose, has chosen to stage the play with three actors – David Sinaiko, Caitlyn Louchard, and Donell Hill – playing all the roles, hoping that it will give “an up close and personal look at the monsters lurking inside all of us.” Our staging includes video projection, original music, and other surreal elements that I hope to describe in more detail in future entries. Most dramaturgs are justifiably wary of more experimental stagings, but I believe theater is a living organism, and just in the way modern critics have been able to read everything from Freud to Fanon into The Tempest, so should we freely though heedfully dive certain fathoms into a piece to find what may be buried at the center. Combing through some critical writings on The Tempest and seeing the actors on their feet in rehearsal, I feel that this production succeeds in uncovering compelling and essential aspects of Shakespeare’s play that may not be as readily apparent in a “traditional” staging. Overlapping groups of threes abound in the play – the Prospero, Miranda, and Ferdinand trio, the Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban trio, the Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo trio, and so forth. Seeing the same actor in a different role a few pages creates wonderful, unexpected moments of revelation. Prospero’s line to Miranda that “to the most of men this [Ferdinand] is a Caliban/And they to him are angels” is deliciously curious when the actor playing Ferdinand has just minutes before left the stage as Caliban: the audience is left to question whether or not there is any fundamental difference between the two. Just so, when Stephano (played by the same actor playing Prospero) shows affection for Caliban, we are reminded of that missing episode before the events of the play when Prospero was loving and compassionate to his sole subject on the island. Moments later when Caliban entreats “Prithee, be my god”, we are viscerally made aware that this new allegiance, like Caliban’s allegiance to Prospero, is not much better. Oddly, by reducing the number of actors, we have revealed more about the similarities and differences between each character than one might be able to do with a larger cast.
Innumerable critics have talked about the relationship between The Tempest and psychology – likening the island to the human mind, arguing Ariel and Caliban are Prospero’s Superego and Id respectively and that the play is the story of reconciling these aspects of his conscience. Melrose is interested in exploring the play in this light, but also sees it as a deeply personal story about a father letting go of his daughter, a man forgiving his enemies, and the universal desire shared by all men and women to be “released.” I think this focus on the human element has helped keep our production grounded in the story, and, ultimately, is what preserves, what is, in my opinion Shakespeare’s most essential messages in the play, that “the rarer action/Is in virtue than in vengeance.” Freud and Jung are there, and plentifully, but the audience is not held hostage by the concept but given freedom to draw their own meaning. Our Island may be more surreal at moments, but we’ve built a bridge to the mainland.
-Bennett Fisher, Dramaturg