City Lit Theater. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Sheldon Patinkin. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Aeneas Sagar Hemphill
In a saturated market, every Shakespeare production must justify its existence. Why yet another take? What previously unconsidered element of the play does it bring to light? What makes this production vital? City Lit's The Tempest fails to answer any of these questions. Their production contains no subversion, no recontexualization of the piece, no attempt to make the play relevant to our place and time. It offers nothing new. It's just…The Tempest.
And The Tempest is an insufferable slog to begin with. Long ago disposed from his royal position, Prospero (Dave Skvarla), a megalomaniac who manipulates his sheltered daughter Miranda (Laura Korn), wind sprite Ariel (Callie Johnson), island creature Caliban (Douglas Bryan Bean), and all of his former enemies to enact his plot, which ends not in a bloodbath, catharsis, or meaningful change in any character, but in a deflating forgiveness that was always coming. More an intriguing piece of literature than an engaging drama, The Tempest seems concerned with the concept of a play more than with actually being one. None of the characters' actions is of any real consequence: Prospero controls the world of the play and we watch his plot unfold over two hours with no threat, tension, or suspense of any kind.
Sheldon Patinkin's actors are clearly reverent of the text—not in the sense that they're in awe of its power and possibility, but overprotective of its delivery. We can hear the words fine, but we don't feel them. The performances barely scratch the surface. In place of emotional truth are programmed facial expressions and varying rate, pitch, and volume. Prospero's speeches rise and fall independent of the energy of the scene and Peter Ash's Ferdinand relies entirely on a slow drawl and vacant expression for characterization. Sebastian (Charles Askenaizer) and Antonio (Jared Dennis) do bring some welcome levity with their more natural-feeling banter, but for the most part, City Lit's production feels stilted, with nothing to distinguish it in quality or imagination.