The opening music was the haunting piano from Riders on the Storm, and the voice-over set the political stakes directly:
The storm is the people. The storm is the people.
This brilliant stripped-bare performance-gesture at The Tempest by Motus Theatre Company from Italy featured the joint direction and production of Daniela Nicolo and Enrico Casagrande, who came forward after the show to take a bow. The spectacle — part dance, part drama, part video, part light show — featured five actors, alternately taking on the parts of Ariel, Caliban, Prospero, and Miranda, and occasionally playing toward other moments in Shakespeare’s play. At one point, when playing the confrontations between Prospero and his servants about labor, they shifted to Cesaire’s version of the play. The actors also played themselves as actors, worrying about how it could be possible to play Shakespeare’s characters in the modern world.
Blankets, the Program Note reminds us, are the basic objects used to comfort displaced bodies after storms or other dislocations:
And what is the first shelter for a defenseless body after a hurricane, a shipwreck, or an armed conflict?
The action of the play moved from Shakespeare to numerous catastrophes, from the mass revolt in Tirana, Albania in 1990, which the actor Gleni Caci claims to have seen from his window as a ten-year old boy, to political demonstrations in support of migrants in Rome in 2013 and of black men unjustly slain in New York in 2014, to explicit discussion of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. If the storm is the people, as the opening voice insisted, then the people could also reply to storms, collectively and artistically.
Twice during the show the theatre went utterly dark, gesturing toward the week-long blackout in NYC after Sandy. The second time, just before the end, a bright flashlight appeared right next to me, spotting the face of Ilenia Caleo, who played Miranda. She closed the play with the famous line that Aldous Huxley, one of Motus’s inspirations, cribbed for the title of his most famous book:
O brave new world, that has such people in it!
The most innovative element of the play say the actor playing Ariel, Silvia Calderoni, tote a small tree over her shoulder and walk off of the stage and out through the back lobby. The story continued by way of a video screen, which followed her as she carted the tree down into the subway station, onto a train, across the city, and eventually to the “I Can’t Breathe” protests in Washington Square Park and elsewhere. The film also spliced in images of a demonstration for migrants’ rights in Rome in 2013, at which Calderoni toted the same tree and wore the same black jeans and jacket. The narrative was clear: the actor left the stage to seek the company of activists, before returning to us, green growing symbol still over her shoulder, with renewed knowledge. Or, as Motus says in its note:
The truest form of involvement (beyond political activism) is the one we live on the stage, with the audience members of every city in which we move…as we try to build temporary heterotopia.
Toward the latter half of rthe play, the actors collected blankets from the audience, folded them into noodles, and used them to spell out two phrases. The first was Shakespeare by way of Cesaire:
This island is mine!
A few slight changes including punctuation closed the tableau on a more ambiguous note:
Is this land mine?
It was, at least for a little while. At least I hope it was. A blanket-spelled heterotopia in the East Village. The perfect ending to La MaMa’s great Tide is Rising project this fall.