— The Tempest. Bard on the Beach. Photo: David Blue
I can’t think of a better word to describe Meg Roe’s The Tempest, her re-imagining of the production that launched her directing career at Bard in 2008. That staging, in Bard’s studio tent, I described as one of the best shows of the summer. This restaging, in the big tent, is easily one of the best in Bard’s 25-year history.
Allan Morgan returns as Prospero. The intervening years have given him a little more gravitas, darker dark moods and a greater payoff at the end when Prospero finally lets go of his anger and forgives those who betrayed him, including Scott Bellis’ deeply repentant Alonso. The divine Jennifer Lines is back as Ariel with athletic grace and energy that animate the spectacle, and her lovely singing voice is a tremendous bonus. Back, too, are the onstage string musicians, four this time instead of three, whose ethereal music, composed by Alessandro Juliani, accompanies Ariel and her fairies.
Christine Reimer’s fantastic costumes also seem about a third more lavish and sumptuous than before. Ariel’s gigantic wings and the First Nations-influenced creatures who shock and appall Prospero’s enemies are Reimer’s coup de grace, although she almost tops them with the carnivalesque Polynesian-style garb of the marriage scene. Gerald King’s lighting and Juliani’s soundscape add to the wondrous sense of magic in both those scenes.
New to this production are Lili Beaudoin as Miranda, daughter of Prospero, and Daniel Doheny as Alonso’s son Ferdinand. The young lovers shine with adorable comic innocence real romantic chemistry.
One of Roe’s cleverest devices in the original production was to create comic roles for a couple of Bard’s leading women, Colleen Wheeler and Naomi Wright, by turning the drunken sailors Stephano and Trinculo into Stephana and Trincula. With Wheeler taking a sabbatical from Bard this summer, Wright moves over into the role of Stephana. Luisa Jojic plays Trincula, announcing her presence with a classically funny entrance.
But the real comic genius is in their work together. With the help of choreographer Rob Kitsos, Roe, Wright and Jojic work out some terrific routines. Tipsy Stephana and Trincula, looking like a demented female Tweedledum and Tweedledee, find themselves worshipped by Caliban, played powerfully by Todd Thomson on all fours as a kind of tragically desperate Gollum, willing to lick the feet of Stephana to help persuade her to join his plot against Prospero. Wright’s reactions to his tribute are hilarious.
Roe’s production is filled with that kind of rich theatrical detail, but she also invites us to consider seriously the play’s themes. This was the first Tempest I’ve seen that really made me think about its politics. Caliban’s complaints—that the island was stolen from him and his mother by Prospero, who has unjustly enslaved him—have plenty of weight here. Shakespeare may not have had much sympathy for anti-colonialism and aboriginal land claims, but a 21st century Tempest, especially in British Columbia, must leave room for those ideas.
This Tempest is magnificent. Don’t miss it.