Conceived and Directed by Daniela Nicolo and Enrico Casagrande
Produced by Motus Theatre Company
Off Broadway, New play
Runs through 12.21.14
La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 12.15.14
A scene from Nella Tempesta. Photo by Tiziana Tomasulo
BOTTOM LINE: A mind expanding new production from Italy’s Motus Theatre Company that masterfully illuminates contemporary political and climate change issues alongside text borrowed from Shakespeare.
I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some thoughts on how to view a production that so confuses and overwhelms you, you aren’t sure what to make of it. In some ways, these are the productions that a non-theater-going regular fears most. It’s all in Italian, after you’re seated you begin to realize there’s been a camera filming you in the lobby that’s now being live streamed to us all, and we’re met with overwhelming strobe lights to send the mind into instant frenzy.
I sit with pen poised, looking to jot down something for this review. Instead nothing comes. You can’t take your eyes away from anything. And the advice would be just that. Allow yourself to have the production wash over you, be afraid of it, laugh at it, and keep it with you for as long as it lasts. Which, for me, is harrowingly present as I ride the train home, get underneath a blanket, and type this very review. Nella Tempesta is a stunning piece of work that will leave you “even more confused as before” to borrow text directly from some of the final supertitle moments. It proudly declares itself a pretty “fucked up” version of The Tempest making no apologies for its overt propaganda, fractured text, and intentional messiness.
Who does this earth belong to? That is the question we are drawn to. With politics I’m barely familiar with, Motus inspires its Tempest with the struggles of migrants fleeing from low-lying countries currently being engulfed with water from climate change. It seems a great deal of conflict in their home country of Italy. And an issue this production has forced me to readily examine, as the matter can only get worse.
It’s hard to single out any one performer as particularly exceptional as they all perform with such commitment and power to both a role and a message. (It’s even harder to do so as they aren’t identified by character in the program.) And it’s the crafting of what’s dubbed in the program as a “moving-head” lighting instrument that’s truly stunning. This production is almost devoid of any scenic elements and seems to be lit almost entirely by this one single light source that could easily become a gimmick. Instead, it follows Ariel as if to search for him through invisibility, it showers a glittery costume with light reminiscent of stars, and pelts us with powerful strobes that distort and disrupt our vision of events. The design here is credited to Alessio Spirli who deserves some kind of award for coolness.
What’s perhaps the most chilling and effective moment awaits us at the very end. A collection of donated blankets has been assembled to form the words “This island is mine” to borrow from Caliban’s words earlier in the play. To which things become masterfully rearranged to “This land is mine?” A question mark of great importance. Is it? Who has the power here? Isn’t the earth all of ours? Don’t we have an equal opportunity to protect it? Nay, a responsibility? And instead of looking to Prospero’s final “charms are overthrown” monologue, Motus borrows from Miranda’s “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world / That has such people in’t!” It’s easy in this kind of work to feel hopeless, overwhelmed and saturated with problems. Instead we’re left with tremendous hope that we are capable of, us, the beauteous mankind.
(Nella Tempesta plays at The Ellen Stewart Theatre through December 21, 2014. There are shows Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 4:00 pm. The running time is 80 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $30 and $25 for students/seniors, and are available at lamama.org or by calling 646.430.5374.)