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.
I don't think this review, or the reviewer, need any defending, but this piece is right on. City Lit's production is earnest, respectful, and painfully mediocre. It just doesn't appear as if the director had any fresh ideas or was willing to take any discernible attitude toward the play other than to present it in the most neutral manner possible -- no illumination, no poetry, no magic. This wasn't by any means the worst Shakespeare production I've ever seen, but it was the most forgettable.
I saw this play last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it (my 5 star review is for the play). I completely disagree with this reviewer and was stunned by his negativity. I've never seen the Tempest before and am glad that I was able to see it in its true form. It would have been very annoying if this play had been subjected to a "recontexualization" or changed substantially to dumb it down for those who do not appreciate Shakespeare's beautiful plays.
Wow, it's easy to write a negative review when your name isn't attached to it, isn't it? If the reviewer hates The Tempest so much ("an insufferable slog to begin with") perhaps he/she shouldn't review it? My one-star rating is for the original review, not the production itself.
The bizarre prejudices and obscurantist dogma coloring this piece, evident from the first paragraph, effectively excuse its author from making any sort of meaningful determination as to the actual merits of this production. Assigning a critic with not only a severe distaste for the material, but a complete aversion to the entire aesthetic approach taken by the ensemble is comparable to a pasta-hating restaurant critic reviewing an Italian restaurant. It is not only cruelly irresponsible, it suggests a certain vindictiveness on behalf of the publication. The editors of TimeOut should be thoroughly ashamed; the hard-working artistic community of Chicago unequivocally deserves better.