- The Tempestby Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and: The Alchemistby Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey opened its 2014 season with The Tempest, directed by its Artistic Director, Bonnie J. Monte. Monte’s production focused on Shakespeare’s text; on the tempests in the hearts of Prospero, Caliban, and Ariel; and on the power of forgiveness. [End Page 153]
Rather than relying on modern technology to create spectacular feats of magic, Monte concentrated on the magic achieved by Shakespeare’s words and the actors’ talents. The setting for her magical island was inspired by her visit to Pantelleria: an island located between Tunis and Milan, which is known for its sudden tempests created by the island’s atmospheric conditions. The geographic location made sense given the route Shakespeare’s fictional ship might have taken. In a “Know the Show” talk (June 5, 2014), Monte said she wanted to make the events in the play plausible for a modern audience; consequently, she reexamined the text to stage them logically. She did not want to resort to gimmicks that would distract the audience from the text as they focused on the “wow” factor and wondered how a trick was accomplished.
The set depicted an inactive volcanic mountain that filled the stage floor with multiple slate-colored tiered playing surfaces, raked at eleven degrees. At the front of the stage on each side were pools of water from which Caliban pulled out fish. In the center of the mountain was an opening to Caliban’s cave. The slightly curved back wall, made of a muslin scrim, was lit for the different scenes, evoking breath-taking images of nineteenth-century landscape paintings.
Monte deleted the first scene of the play and the production opened with Prospero, downstage center in a flowing gown and cape, holding his staff and appearing to control the storm. We did not know whether he could create the storm or whether he was simply using his powers of weather observation to appear to control the elements through magic. We heard the sounds of the storm and the anguished cries of those on board the ship. Prospero then made his way to the top of the mountain and stood there, supposedly continuing to control the storm, as a distressed Miranda ran to the front of the stage. The storm subsided and he explained their past to her; then, like a hypnotist, he snapped his fingers to put her to sleep as he proceeded with his plan.
In Monte’s interpretation, Prospero and Caliban embodied “civilized” versus “feral” man. Howard’s Prospero was a gray-haired, philosophical, reflective soul who visibly struggled with the tempest within his heart and who ultimately chose forgiveness rather than revenge. The production’s emphasis was on the man, not the magician. His facial expressions showed his internal...