‘The Tempest: Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On’ at Pallas Theatre Collective by Amanda Gunther

FOUR AND A HALF STARS
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with sleep.” William Shakespeare’s words straight from The Tempest. But those aren’t the only famous words of the Bard that you’ll be hearing during Pallas Theatre Collective’s production of The Tempest: Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On. A rejuvenated rendition of this Shakespearean classic, Director Tracey Elaine Chessum brings a fusion of digital media and the Bard’s rich text together on the stage for an abridged telling of the classic whale of a tale.

John Stange (Caliban), Kathleen Mason (Stephano), and Thony Mena (Trinculo). Photo courtesy of Pallas Theatre Collective.

John Stange (Caliban), Kathleen Mason (Stephano), and Thony Mena (Trinculo). Photo courtesy of Pallas Theatre Collective.

An intricate framework is laid out at the beginning of this story by Director Tracey Elaine Chessum in an attempt to make it a unique Pallas Theatre Collective production. Some of this framework — employed largely through the use of projection and sound design — is quite effective.

The company takes great pains setting up the story with a fifteen minute intro about all the changes they’ve made via a slide projection of hilarious stick-figure animations. Chessum puts a spin on the story claiming to turn it into Antonio’s story wherein Sebastian and Antonio are married, Ariel is their child, and several of the characters have been transformed into females (including Prospero and King Alonso). As incredible as these changes sound, none of them are ever actually played out during the performance (except for the gender switches in the key roles). The audience is informed that chess is a hugely integral part of the performance, and aside from appearing as the floorboard on which the show is set, it isn’t really present as an easily detectable guiding force or theme.

Chessum’s other choice was to double cast Caliban as Antonio(played by John Stange). While the actor has a superior mastery over Shakespearean dialect he had very little differentiation between the two characters, aside from his slight costume difference. Chessum had Stange constantly on stage, stalking around the scenes as an ever present entity — dressed as Antonio, responding silently to the chaos. This seemed out of place and awkward and the reason for having him do such was unclear to me.

These roadblocks aside – the production was a smashing success. Chessum created a digital library full of projections to enhance the dynamic effect of the production; from roiling tumultuous waves on the screen during the tempest, churning with lightning strikes upon the water. Underscored by the haunting recordings of various prominent Shakespearean quotes, the projections take the production to a higher plane of existence, an aesthetically impressive one at that. (Kudos to Technical Director Andrew Derbyshire, Lighting Operator Sandra Martinez, Projections Operators Caroline Brent and Rin Hunter, and Technical Crew Carolyn Hampton and Navid Azeez).

Prospero (Julia Sears) is much like the storm she conjures, tempestuous and untamable; a roaring force to be reckoned with when she explodes her scorn into life. Sears uses her emotional prowess to evoke the deep hatred for her brother and vengeance she intends to seek upon him with an impeccable understanding of the meter of Shakespeare’s work. Like the tide that ebbs and flows, Sears explosions are tempered during her interactions with her daughter, speaking soft and kindly like a mother should, though her voice is never without a hint of mischief and true emotional expressivity.

Playing the daughter Miranda (Kelsey Meiklejohn), the innocent youth daughter of the sorceress, she becomes every bit the naïve ingénue you expect from the character. Meiklejohn is love stricken by the firm hand of Cupid when she meets Ferdinand (Brendan Kennedy). The pair share a brilliant nubile love, the chemistry soft and kind and bubbling with chaste passion as they profess their feelings to one another.

Jullia Sears (Prospero), Sean Silvia (Ariel), and John Stange (Antonio). Photo courtesy of Pallas Theatre Collective.

Jullia Sears (Prospero), Sean Silvia (Ariel), and John Stange (Antonio). Photo courtesy of Pallas Theatre Collective.

A much more fiery chemistry flies between Sebastian (Chelsea Mayo) and Antonio (John Stange). During the initial wash-up scene both Mayo and Stange are ripe with nefarious deeds reflected easily in their postures and vocalizations. Mayo and Stange articulate the text fluidly with a true understanding of how to import emotions into the archaic dialect.

Stange’s portrayal of Caliban differs from Antonio only in the sense that his slave expressions are more rudimentary. The voice and emotions are the same, only his physicality bends slightly and he loses a shirt in the process, otherwise the two are inseparable during his performance.

The master of the show, however, comes from youth actor Sean Silvia. Playing the mischievous air sprite Ariel, Silvia has a command of Shakespeare’s text that takes many adult actors a good lifetime to manage. Silvia has all the sprightly energy of the character and is precocious. Beyond a shadow of a doubt he is a tremendously talented performer and when he flits in and out of the scene with his accusations and merriment – he is sensational!

Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Tempest: Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On plays through January 27, 2013 at Pallas Theatre Collective at The Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church – 10123 Connecticut Avenue in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 909-8497, or purchase them online.

LINKS
Part One of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: Meet Pallas Theatre Collective, by Michael Boynton.

Part Two of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: Views from the Chessboard, by Tracey Elaine Chessum, Ph.D.

Part Three of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: From The Boardroom, by John Horman.

Part Four of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: Chessboards & Sea-faring, by Tracey Elaine Chessum, Ph.D.

Part Five of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: Checkmate, by Caroline Brent.

Part Six of The Tempest: Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on: Opening Night Reflections, by Caroline Brent.

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