The Hipp's Tempest is edited smartly and shrewdly to accommodate our modern--what I call 'Short-Attention-Span-Theatre' mode of engaging with art. It is a quick acknowledgement of the present and all the history of the past come to life on one seriously magical stage. Many of the actors make their appearances from within a giant stack of books, and this really says something about what we are leaving behind culturally as we stick ourselves, face-to-phone or pad or screen or headphones and wander into walls and cars and others like mutated zombie potato people. I promise if you take your gift of self-awareness and place it into a theatre and give of yourself to the art, it will return ten-fold the most profound and intangible rewards; you will truly be living a dream.
Director Lauren Caldwell fearlessly messes with Shakespeare. Back in the day, all male actors played all the roles. Yes, somewhere there were a number of boys who, in Juliet dresses kissed their Romeos. In more recent history, women played lead male roles just to change it up a bit and add a little zest to the mousse. And now, Director Julie Taymor has messed with Shakespeare in a fascinating way by casting a woman in the male role and doubling down by changing the gender from Prospero to Prospera. With all the attention occurring in the rise of gender-ownership and gender studies, this makes perfect sense. Caldwell has done the same by casting the ever-astounding actor, Sara Morsey in the lead. Her Prospera is powerful, determined, yet motherly. It lends an entirely different pallor to the entire world of the play. Other genders (some of which were ambiguous to begin with) are mirrored around. We see Ariel shifting the expectation of gender, [Michael Littig in a fascinating turn as the spirit]. Ariel's arms extend out like a music-box dancer, stepping lightly, a mix of clumsy elegance, but with hints of masculinity. It took me a few days, honestly, to soak this rendition of Ariel in before I finally arrived at the conclusion it was absolutely brilliant; predominately because we take direct notice of this and are in a quality of discomfort--one which invites introspection. Why can't Ariel just be...Ariel. Really, theatre should not only be the bells and whistles when it also has the power to fuel imagination, compassion, adventure, and self-realization. Story-telling is the very culture which has allowed our species permission to live. We really should pay attention to it.
Caldwell does not stop here, she makes her Caliban [Ryan George in a passionate and powerful performance] just about the sexiest hottest ripped son-of-a-witch to ever grace an intimate thrust stage. Can we surmise Caliban's perfection in contrast to those around him is his monstrosity? These kinds of deeper questions and underpinnings of gender, race, appearance, concerns regarding 'the other', all are raised under the powerful magic of mother Prospera. Shakespeare is as alive and as vital as he ever was. Don't you see? Put down the phone and the pad and the screen and the earbuds for a second, the corporate commercials tailored directly to your weakness based on your surfing and searching patterns will be there when you return...SEE THIS PLAY! See it with someone you can talk with about it. Visit a magical world you've both never seen and yet actually live in. Visit the life of the mind.
The entire cast puts every possible energy and brings Shakespeare's words to life, poetically, lyrically, with the intentions that truthfully serve the characters. Especially good are Kenneth Smoak and Logan Wolf as Trinculo and Stephano respectively, adding rich and comedic flair. Really it is a bit of a disservice to even spotlight actors here; everyone in the cast is fully invested in telling this story and their joy of theatre, performing, and story-telling skill is purely infectious. The production design, sound, properties, the details of the set, the truly outstanding costuming by Marilyn A. Wall and Jessica N. Kreitzer delight the senses and the eyes. The lighting...oh, the lighting...the lighting is truly off the chain. Somebody set loose a wizard into the building! Robert P. Robbins has outdone himself in that space for this production. In the golden light of the resolution of the play, I had to check myself to make sure I had not accidentally ingested late 60s black sunshine blotter acid. It was glorious and warm and redemptive.
Now for those who find Shakespeare's language and stories impenetrable, just remember if you will, that vegetable or delicacy or cup of coffee or whatever it was that you just couldn't stand as a youngster. Now, after cultivating your appreciation, you simply can't live without it--you must give Shakespeare at least that small modicum of respect, and on his own Victorian terms. But then add in the twists, turns, and spectacle of the Hippodrome's new contemporary take on this fantastical island, I promise you: You will understand and gradually develop the addiction which will change simply everything in the world for the best. By the way, the word addiction...well, I suppose by now you know who invented it.
Quit looking at the screen now and go to the show.