By William Shakespeare; Directed by James Dean Palmer
Off Off Broadway, Classic
Runs through 7.28.19
The Gallery Players, 199 14th Street, Brooklyn
by Dan Rubins on 7.23.19
Ana Karneža and Dominic Cuskern in The Tempest. Photo by Steven Pisano Photography.
BOTTOM LINE: This Tempest won't blow you out of the water, but the Gallery Players' inclusive casting should make waves.
Perhaps, of all of Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest is the most impervious to modern updates. When the play begins, Prospero, exiled Duke of Naples, has established himself as ruler of an island deliberately stripped of any worldly trappings. It’s just Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and their assorted crew of otherworldly attendants, including the enslaved Caliban, a native to the island, and Ariel, Prospero’s spirit helper desperate for freedom. Set the play in Victorian England or 1990s Russia and it won’t make much difference: as Prospero enacts revenge on his stranded enemies, he imagines the island as a space that will force the essence of who people really are out into the open, regardless of where they come from. Put another way, there’s no cell service on this island.
Brooklyn’s long-lasting Gallery Players’ new production of The Tempest, the concluding production of the company’s 52nd season, seems to be set in some more recent era—costumes and music vaguely suggest the 1960s—but that choice doesn’t have much impact. And while many of the actors offer spirited, committed performances, the textual work is not sufficiently gripping or consistently crystal-clear to be reason alone for audiences to check out this Tempest.
What does stand out in this production, though, is the Gallery Players’ vibrant commitment to inclusive casting in a way that feels simultaneously color-blind, gender-blind, ability-blind—that is, anyone can play anyone—and also deeply conscious of each of these aspects of identity. Ferdinand’s pronouns have changed—she’s now Princess Ferdinand and played with crowning intelligence by Simoné Elizabeth Bart. And even though the play hasn’t had to change much to accommodate this, it seems central to the storytelling: this now-same-sex relationship joins Ferdinand with a Miranda (Ana Karneža) who uses a wheelchair for most of the production, spinning curious circles around her new acquaintance.
In the freshest staging moment from James Dean Palmer, Ferdinand leads Miranda in a buoyant dance, wheelchair included, accompanied by a cadre of singing, dancing children, and Miranda slyly persuades Prospero (Dominic Cuskern) to join in. For Miranda, who has grown up without seeing any humans besides her Prospero and the humanoid Caliban, all bodies are equally beautiful, equally worthy of recognition and love. “O brave new world that has such people in it!” Miranda exclaims when she meets Ferdinand’s compatriots from Naples, a group that here includes multiple trans and non-binary performers, including the compelling Patricia Black as Ferdinand’s mother Queen Alonsa.
This Tempest urges us to take note of these diverse bodies and identities onstage, but also asks us to share Miranda’s vision of a world where those differences no longer alienate us.
(The Tempest plays at Gallery Players, 199 14th Street, through July 28, 2019. The running time is 2 hours 30 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30; Sundays at 3. Tickets are $25-$30 and are available at galleryplayers.com or by calling 212-352-3101.)
The Tempest is by William Shakespeare. Directed by James Dean Palmer. Choreography by Myah Shein. Set Design by Mike Mroch. Lighting Design by Hao Bai. Costume Design by Corina Chase. Composer is Chris Felix. Sound Design by Chris Felix. Stage Manger is Dennis Ngoc Ho.
The cast is Grace Ahlin, Simoné Elizabeth Bart, Martha Benson, Patricia Black, Dominic Cuskern, Harley Diamond, Sarah Jordan Hupper, Alice Ivey, Ana Karneža, Caitlyn Mary Klenner, Colleen Litchfield, Ava McLaughlin, George Olesky, Teddy Qin, Jocelyn Rossillo, Michael Selkirk, Delancey Shapiro, Griffin Sharps, Eri Sica, and Sadie Spitler.