EXTENDED THROUGH DEC. 19!
Caitlyn Louchard (left), David Sinaiko (center) and Donell Hill are the only three actors in director Rob Melrose’s chamber version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a Cutting Ball Theater production at EXIT on Taylor. Photo by Rob Melrose
High-concept Shakespeare gives me a rash. I should modify that. Most of the time, when directors impose some great new twist, time period, setting, the result merely obscures rather than heightens the play itself.
That said, my favorite Merry Wives of Windsor of all time was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s version, which was set in an “I Love Lucy”-like 1950s. The laughs were so big the actors had to hold and hold and hold. I was sure they had tinkered with the script, but when I ran to my Riverside Shakespeare after, it was all word for word. If a director’s concept pulls you deeper into Shakespeare’s world, I’m all for it.
When I heard that director Rob Melrose, one of the brilliant minds behind Cutting Ball Theater was turning The Tempest into a three-person chamber piece set in a psychiatrist’s office at the bottom of a swimming pool, I was hesitant but intrigued.
Looking at Michael Locher’s set at the EXIT on Taylor, I was impressed even though it looked more like a jungle gym than a swimming pool with a great back wall for Cliff Caruthers’ attractive video projections. The ladders on the sides of the stage allow for feats of physical dexterity on the part of the actors that enliven the action.
When the play started, with Miranda (Caitlyn Louchard) on the couch and Prospero (David Sinaiko) behind the therapist’s desk, the idea of a head-shrinker Tempest seemed inspired.
Prospero is all about playing manipulative head games with everyone around him, so it only makes sense that he would be a psychiatrist. But as the first scene began to play out, I wondered if, in this scenario, Prospero was actually Miranda’s father (would a father really psychoanalyze his daughter?) or if, through patient transference, he was more of a father figure. It soon became clear that he was indeed her father, which just ended up seeming weird.
I soon lost the psychiatrist thread and just saw a scaled-down Tempest that featured some intriguing performances – Louchard is a wonderful Ariel and Donell Hill is superb as Caliban (he’s fine as Ferdinand, too). Sinakio’s Prospero never came to life for me because I couldn’t really figure out who he was supposed to be. Also, having your Prospero appear as other characters (Sinaiko also plays Alonso and Stephano) really steals focus from the center of the play and diminishes the character – even if the concept has all this drama taking place in his head.
With the introduction of the revenge characters and the comic relief characters, Melrose’s production really lost me. The challenges of this chamber production erupted into confusion, and confusion turned into boredom. A friend who had never seen The Tempest before was lost almost from the beginning and left feeling like it was a play she had no interest in seeing again.
Cutting Ball productions are never easy, but their challenges often result in thrilling theatrical experiences. This Tempest certainly has its challenges but comes up short on the rewards.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cutting Ball Theater’s The Tempest continues an extended run through Dec. 19 at EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$50. Call 800 838-3006 or visit www.cuttingball.com for information.