Unseam'd pulls some of the Shakespeare out of 'Tempest'
After directing a macabre, post-apocalyptic, gender-bending “Macbeth” for three performers in 2009 and re-creating “Othello” as “Othello Noir,” with film noir touches in 2006, director Michael Hood is at it again.
This time out, he's helping Unseam'd Shakespeare Company celebrate its 20th anniversary with “The Tempest, or The Enchanted Isle.”
Many know it in its original form as “The Tempest,” which is widely acknowledged as William Shakespeare's final play, written in 1611.
“It's a great play, rife with the greatest poetry and great characters,” Hood says.
Hood acknowledges he could have chosen to direct Shakespeare's original.
“But this is the Unseam'd Shakespeare Company. We have a mandate to find other ways to bring this material to the public,” he says. “It is interesting just to look at how a play can say what it says in a different way than you are accustomed to.”
To do that, he chose Scott Palmer's “The Tempest, or The Enchanted Isle,” an adaptation of John Dryden and William D'Avenant's 1667 comedic re-working of Shakespeare's original play that Bag&Baggage Productions of Hillsboro, Ore., produced in 2011.
“Because it is an adaptation of an adaptation, it is Unseam'd at its most unseamly,” Hood says.
The story remains essentially the same as it was when it was first performed for King James I at Whitehall: Prospero, a magician, has been cast away with his daughter to an enchanted island after losing his dukedom to his brother. When a storm delivers the usurper and members of his court to the island, Prospero is given a chance for revenge.
Those familiar with the original will discover many differences, though.
“It's not by Shakespeare. It's not a Shakespeare play. There are difference characters, different plots, and it's actually funny,” says Andy Kirtland, Unseam'd Shakespeare Company's artistic associate. “This production and script pulls out a lot more humor than Shakespeare did. There's no mention of regicide. … It's more about buffoons establishing a government and watching them fail when they try to take over the one that's established.”
Adding two characters — Hippolito and Dorinda, a man who has never seen a woman and a woman who, like her sister Miranda, has never seen a man — provides additional opportunities for comic interaction, while Shakespeare's Miranda and Ferdinand continue to pursue their more-serious discovery of each other.
“You get the lusciousness of Miranda and Ferdinand (meeting and falling in love) echoed in the natural girl meeting the natural boy who are not as refined,” Hood says. “There are opportunities for really funny scenes. You get to bring the civilized man in direct contact with an uncivilized man.”
Hood promises a show that is shorter, faster and funnier than the original.
The script has been streamlined to be performed in two hours with intermission and is being performed in a style Shakespeare would not recognize, Hood says.
“We are looking at a mixture of Restoration costumes and Georgian, early 18th/late 17th-century scenic elements tempered with a touch of Monty Python and Black Adder,” Hood says. “It's at least a parody, probably a farce. It would have originally been written as a ‘droll.' ”
The performance style will borrow from Restoration techniques — actors formally bowing when they make their entrances and performers abandoning the world of realism as they deliver lines as Restoration performers playing an actor playing a character.
“We are doing a gigantic win across the footlights,” Hood says.
The production will feature original music that David Martynuik wrote for use with some scenes as well as to accompany choreographer Joan Van Dyke's dance with which the company concludes the performance.
It's a show that should be enjoyed by those who have seen multiple productions of “The Tempest” as well as those seeing it for the first time, Hood says.
“People who know it well will appreciate everything they are accustomed to. Some will say ‘Oh, my God, what have they done?' and a person new to the play should be able to follow it,” Hood says.
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.