Just when you think that the theatre season is closed at Indiana University, a rare surprise appears. The Department of Theatre and Drama’s Murray McGibbon with South African actor Stephen Gurney as the wizard Prospero along with IU students and other guests revisit Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the Wells-Metz Theatre.
The Tempest begins and ends dramatically in a magic circle with Prospero at the center of the entire cast. Initially, it’s where he plots his revenge on the usurpers who abandoned him and his daughter to the sea. The production seemed a bit fragmented and never quite fully engaged me, but during the rest of the brief two hours there was plenty of action with the resources of the Wells-Metz and the creativity of director McGibbon, lighting designer John Allerheiligen, and sound designers Sinethemba Makanya and Carmund White very much on display.
The original of this production of The Tempest was in South Africa two years ago. The current show boasts three IU students and three South African actors from that cast. Alyson Bloom as the magician’s graceful daughter Miranda, Michael Aguirre as the innocently smitten young Ferdinand, and Carmund White as the savage and deformed slave Caliban were the IU veterans. Mlondolozi Zondi as the athletically airy spirit Ariel, Reneldon Moodley as the drunken butler Stephano and Sinethemba Makanya as the graceful lead spirit Iris were from the original group of South African actors.
In the IU production, Prospero’s telling of his story to his daughter Miranda begins on a sunny beach. I’m not sure quite how their pair of aluminum lawn chairs and a plastic picnic cooler appeared on the island, but it had a nice low key domestic touch. Later, when Prospero had beached the ship of his enemies with a dramatic storm, the bedraggled wretches showed up with their dutiful lord lugging a heavy suitcase and a nicely emblematic set of golf clubs.
The wretches, all from IU, included Tyrone Van Tatenhove and Brian Bradshaw as the usurpers and villains, with Kelly Lusk as the honest old councilor who sought to foil their plot and Kevin Sheehan as a relative innocent. Joseph Arellano was the dutiful lugger of the baggage.
The three zanies of The Tempest were a mixed group. South Africa’s Reneldon Moodley as the drunken butler Stephano and IU’s Carmund White as Caliban reprised their roles from the original production. They were joined by IU’s Brian Landisman as the jester Trinculo.
The three spirits, wonders of Prospero’s island, were IU’s Anna Rose Heyman and Anna Sullivan, led by South Africa’s Sinethemba Makanya. As they almost magically appeared with graceful movement and singing they were indeed what Shakespeare called “such stuff as dreams are made on.”
At the plays conclusion, Prospero redraws the magic circle for his reconciliation. The themes of redemption, forgiveness and what it means to be human all come together in his statement that, “The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.”
Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” directed by Murray McGibbon with Stephen Gurney plays May 6-9, 2009 in the Wells-Metz Theatre.
Listen to WFIU’s George Walker’s interview with Murray McGibbon and Stephen Gurney.