Shakespeare Behind Bars

Film
YARD BARD A prisoner performs Prospero.
YARD BARD A prisoner performs Prospero.

Time Out says

Call it The Shakespeare Redemption: Evoking Shawshank down to its Thomas Newman--esque score, this documentary goes behind the scenes at a production of The Tempest staged—improbably enough—at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, a Kentucky medium-security prison where a rehab-via-Shakespeare program has thrived since the mid-’90s. The Tempest couldn’t be more suited to the setting: The play involves being stranded on an island, and one of the major themes is forgiveness. The inmates’ surprising eloquence aside, though, this is hardly Shakespeare in the Park; as Leonard, the prisoner playing Antonio, observes, here “somebody might go to the hole, somebody might get transferred.”

Indeed, many of the setbacks over the nearly 40-week rehearsal period unfold with a dramatist’s sense of irony—and Shakespeare Behind Bars milks the disparity between each prisoner and his character with perhaps too much ease. (“Caliban is such a savage,” says Big G, in jail for killing a police officer. “I feel like I have to regress to play him.”) Although analogies between the play and the prison become repetitive after half an hour, Shakespeare Behind Bars is clever in toying with viewers’ sympathies, revealing cast members’ crimes only after we’ve gotten to enjoy them as actors. The Tempest’s own sympathies cut both ways, with the usurped Prospero alternately portrayed as wronged duke and cruel despot, forgiver and forgived. But unlike Prospero, not all of the troupe memebers find themselves pardoned in the end. (Opens Fri; Quad.)—Ben Kenigsberg

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