Some Thoughts on The Tempest or the Enchanted Isle
Scott Palmer has produced a funny and playable modern adaptation of Dryden and Davenant’s comic version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The play is clearly a parody not only of The Tempest, its denizens, and motifs, but also a comic comment upon the society and the politics of the Restoration as put forward by Dryden and Davenant.
One point of view might have it that their play presents a serious argument for the Monarchy…painting as it does the natural man (Caliban and Hippolito) and Woman (Sycorax) as animals incapable of governing their emotions and/or appetites. The sailors ape their betters, but really aren’t much higher on the evolutionary ladder than the “naturals.”
One might also look to the silliness we practice as we attempt to define and/or justify any form of government when our naked thrust for power is really at the heart of whatever we do.
I think that these are valid points and I won’t be trying to stop people from coming to them, but I think we need to take a simpler line of attack and remember that this is a comedy at best and probably closer to being a farce or (and I love this term) a droll.
I further believe that the play needs to live more or less in its time, but through a Pythonesque or, better, a Blackadder (3 is best) kind of a lens. Yes, Restoration lines and materials. Yes, elevated speech and manner. Yes, highly conventionalized and practiced movement. And, most importantly a clear and happily inflated “self-consciousness” that never forgets that the play is being performed before an audience of peers if not friends, and that the performer can rely on his/her words/moves/etc. being mightily appreciated. And we must remember that this play will be performed not lived.
We also know that Shakespeare’s play contains no sex-crazed monster sister to the monster, Caliban, and we take equal delight in her addition to this play’s dramatis personae. We know that Shakespeare’s play had room for only one woman, Miranda, a woman who has never seen a man, and we take delight in the addition of her somewhat dim-witted sister, Dorinda. Finally, we know that the Bard did not invent a third child for Prospero to raise on the enchanted isle, the hyper-aggressive Hippolito, a man who will love every woman he sees. We also understand and relish the play’s implicit invitation to play big and to revel in the play’s physicality. We KNOW it is silly! We KNOW it is overblown! And we LOVE it!
The sets and costumes will need to match this sense of the overblown, puffed up and deliciously enjoyed. I have memories of Ken Russell’s incredible film, “The Devils” in which there is a sequence of a court masque that captures at least one vision of what we are trying to build on scenically; and the costume design will tend just as much to the cartoony and the colorful.
One week into rehearsals, Unseam’d’s production staff and very talented cast members have embarked very happily and enthusiastically on a voyage of creative discovery that promises, even at this early date, to make our island destination a treasure!