By William Shakespeare; Directed by Pitr Strait
Produced by Torn Out Theater
Off Off Broadway, Classic
Runs through 9.10.16
Music Pagoda in Prospect Park, Brooklyn
by Amy Kaissar on 9.13.16
Reanna Roane in The Tempest. Photo by Valerie Pinkerton.
BOTTOM LINE: A well-acted, site-specific, mostly nude all female rendition of the Shakespeare classic.
When I mentioned to a few people that I was going to see the Torn Out Theater's The Tempest in Prospect Park, the response was, “the naked production”? Well yes. Sort of. It’s not entirely nude. And more important, this is not a gimmick, it’s a costume design—one that provides a subtle commentary on the strictures that society places on women’s bodies. The design itself (by Enee Olsen) is spectacular, even if its logic as a political statement is less effective than its role in the storytelling.
From a storytelling perspective, Prospero (Gina Marie Russell) and Miranda (Elizabeth Gilbert), the human inhabitants on Prospero’s island, are mostly nude. Ariel (Reanna Roane) and her sprites (Elven Arrow, Erin Michelle, and Xila Noir) are painted in bright colors like fauvist Arlequinos. And our group of sailors are fully, meticulously dressed in period costumes with ornate headdresses and a contemporary feathered take on cartwheel ruffs. As the play moves on, and the two groups move closer to reconciliation, the clothing gets removed until finally, when Alonso (Sarah Sutliff) discovers Sebastian (Suzannah Gratz) alive, and in love, he too strips down.
In a particularly gorgeous moment, the sprites come together in a circle, holding hands, leaping, and bending in what must be an homage to Matisse’s Dance. The bodies become living works of fauvist art as a comment on the female form and the nature of beauty.
Unfortunately, the all-female concept that accompanies the nudity is based on a flawed thesis. The company claims to use nudity to “normalize the nude female form.” But this indicates that something isn’t normal about the nude female form. Further, audiences are so accustomed to female nudity onstage that it is not particularly disquieting. Really, it's male nudity that is abnormal (or at least rare) on stage, and yet conspicuously missing from this production. The result is an oddly objectifying experience with unsuspecting passers-by taken in by the shock of unexpectedly seeing naked women in a public space, but not stopping long enough to experience the whole journey that places this nudity in the framework in which it was conceived.
That aside, I didn't leave thinking about the use of nudity-as-costume, but about how the audience was held riveted for ninety minutes. Sitting around me were all ages (including a baby), races, shapes, and sizes. There were those who came prepared with lawn chairs and those who happened upon the scene and stopped to watch. The man behind me seemed to be homeless (I wondered if we weren’t invading his space). It was the audience that Joe Papp meant with his concept of free Shakespeare in the park, although it was certainly not the audience that I've ever seen at the Delacorte. To attract, and hold the attention of, such a diverse audience is not an easy feat. The Torn Out Theatre should be commended.
(The Tempest played at the Music Pagoda in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, through September 10, 2016. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances were September 7, 8, 9, and 10 at 5:30. Admission was free. For more information visit TornOutTheater.org.)
The Tempest is by William Shakespeare. Directed by Pitr Strait. Music by Martime Plume & Lauren Wainwright. Additional compositions by Apibus. Costumes and Props are by Enee Olsen. Body Paint by Ish Peralta. Stage Manager is Gina Costagliola.
The cast is Suzannah Gratz, Clara Kundin, Kara Lynn, Miranda McCauley, Reanna Roane, Elizabeth Gilbert, Gina Marie Russell, Sarah Sutliff.