30 July 2011

Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On

“O brave new world that has such people in’t!”

William Shakespeare writes these words in the final scene of The Tempest. And, the people he means could easily be the members of the Rockland Shakespeare Company.

In July, the group celebrated their 14th year presenting outdoor summer Shakespeare productions by staging the play – which many experts believe to be the last he wrote alone – in the Amphitheater Courtyard at SUNY Rockland Community College.

RSC productions get better each year, and the company's continued devotion to presenting these works made The Tempest their most enjoyable performance yet.

(Stavros Adamides as Prospero and Malka Wallick as Miranda.)

The play, written c. 1610, revolves around Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda. Twelve years before the play begins, Prospero’s brother, Antonio – aided by Alonso, the King of Naples – stole power in Milan. He exiled Prospero and Miranda, having the two taken to sea and set adrift in a rickety boat. They survived and landed on an island filled with spirits and magic.

As the play opens, fate has brought Antonio and Alonso near the island aboard a ship. Assisted by his servant, an airy spirit named Ariel, Prospero raises a storm – a tempest – which shipwrecks the two, along with members of their respective courts – including the king’s son, Ferdinand – on the island.

With the help of Ariel and various other spirits – and despite the opposition of Caliban, a savage slave who serves Prospero – the duke is restored to power, Ferdinand falls in love with Miranda, and, as Shakespeare writes elsewhere, all’s well that ends well.

(Christopher Plummer as Caliban.)

Over the last 13 years, co-directors – and RSC co-founders – Christopher Plummer and Patty Maloney-Titland, Chair of the RCC Performing Arts Department, have used various themes and settings in staging the plays – Hamlet set in feudal Japan, The Merry Wives of Windsor set in the American old west, and Love’s Labour’s Lost as a musical, to name a few.

This year, however, the two decided on a “non-theme” theme. In other words: they played it straight. The audience benefited from this decision. Without the distraction of wild costumes or music, the audience became immersed in the language of the play.

As Plummer writes in his Director’s Note, “The heart of this production is in the words and the strength of the characters who speak them.”

Plummer and Maloney-Titland cast the play following three days of auditions, and the group spent four weeks rehearsing.

“The RSC always mounts productions very quickly,” Plummer said. “We erected The Tempest in only four weeks, with an average of three to four rehearsals per week.”

The directors selected their actors well. Despite the limited rehearsal schedule, the cast delivered the excellence audiences have come to expect from the RSC. Each actor seemed perfectly suited for the role they played, and several are deserving of more effusive praise than space will allow.

Stavros Adamides portrayed Prospero with superb gravity. He delivered his lines, including the two most important speeches in the play – “Our revels now are ended,” and the epilogue – flawlessly.

Stephen Truax – in his largest speaking role to date – was excellent as the King of Naples. The role required him to display a far wider range of emotions than in his previous RSC appearances, and he did not disappoint.

Plummer played Caliban with energy, skill, and the unmasked zeal he brings to each Shakespearean role he plays. His bitter and yet still fun portrayal was reminiscent of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films.

Two new members of the RSC distinguished themselves in this production, easily holding their own while on the stage with their more experienced counterparts.

Malka Wallick lived up to her character’s name, portraying Miranda admirably. She exuded the wonderful, child-like innocence of one inexperienced in the wide world in general, much less the sordid world of politics and betrayal.

Theodora Kimmel stole the show as Ariel. While her appearance – she was covered from head to toe in pale blue material and make-up – made her stand out from the rest of the cast visually, it was Kimmel’s movements, her voice, and her confidence that commanded every eye while she was on stage.

(Theodora Kimmel as Ariel.)

Ironically, according to Kimmel, she was not the first choice to play Ariel.

“The part was originally given to someone else and then they dropped out,” she said.

There could not have been a more serendipitous withdrawal. Kimmel was outstanding in a role that – while not the largest – connects all the action in the play by aiding Prospero in his quest to bring the rest of the cast under his power, thus allowing him to regain his dukedom.

The actors were more than ably supported by the crew behind the scenes. Maggie O’Rourke (make-up), Karen Hummel-Kinsley (costume design), and Ebonie Avant (movement choreographer) did an exceptional job helping to create the characters the audience saw.

Although the first show was rained-out, the group presented five performances between July 9th and 17th.

Attendance was, “very consistent,” according to Plummer, with audiences of more than 100 at each performance.

Plummer thanked those who attended the shows for their continuing enthusiasm for the RSC.

“There is nothing like the electric connection between an actor and their audience,” he said.

A sentiment echoed by Kimmel.

“What would Shakespeare be without his loves?” she asked. “What would performances be without a sensitive and appreciative audience?”

“We are extremely passionate about the RSC and performing the works of Shakespeare for the community. I am very proud of what we have accomplished over the past 14 years…and I see no end in sight,” Plummer said.

He promised bigger things to come.

“In appreciation for all the support from our audiences, we are planning a 15th year celebration next summer; a mini Shakespeare Festival outside in the courtyard at RCC which will be filled with fun, food, and, of course, performances for all. You won’t want to miss it,” Plummer said.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for writing this!