Shakespeare in the Park’s The Tempest

The last theater production I saw was in fact, the Shakespeare in the Park’s version of The Tempest. It was a boiling hot, incredibly humid June evening when we stumbled into the Delacorte theater in the middle of the park, ready for some culture. For a first viewing of Shakespeare’s debatably last play, it was a dramatic setting. The air, heavy with moisture made the audience feel as if they were truly sitting on a desert island. It was the best and worst part of the production.

            My feelings and critiques of the production were mixed. I appreciated the setting, but also left sweating and wishing for the air conditioning of a ‘normal’ theater. With regards to the performances, it was an entire spectrum of ability. The absolute standout, Chris Perfetti’s Ariel, was a flighty, androgynous, leather harnessed bound creature who brought edge and elegance to his role. In the New York Times review of the play they describe him as, “airy” and “otherworldly” with Perfetti able to evoke the “twitchiness of birds”. The magic of the play existed within his role rather than the entirety of the production.

Reading two reviews, the one by the Times and another by the New York Post, I felt as if I experienced both spectrums of the critiques. The play while championed by the Times, was highly criticized by the Post. Specifically the character of Prospero, played by Sam Waterson, was destroyed by the Post review. Both pieces explain that Prospero is presented as the bumbling Professor—too entrenched in his library and books to socialize, instead of the powerful magical character frequently scene. They both cite his speech, specifically his aggressive pauses, that lead to this reading of him as quiet awkward. The Post even entitled their review; Waterson is Tepid in ‘The Tempest,’ claiming the fault of the production to lie solely on his shoulders. I disagree.

The problem with the production was a lack of excitement. The Tempest is filled with storms and magic and potential usurpers being usurped. It has intrigue and drama—interesting characters and beautiful monologues, yet the production felt flat. A variety of specific instances lost my interest, for example the initial excitement of seeing Jesse Tyler Ferguson, famous from his Modern Family show, playing Trinculo, and then watching his performance feel over acted and foolish. Most frustratingly, however, was the idea that the production had potential. I wanted more of a focus on the theme of bondage and forced servitude shown through the S&M harness costumes worn by Ariel and Caliban. I wanted more, and maybe the play just cannot be more—maybe the performance pushed and achieved all that it could.