January 8, 2008

This ‘Tempest’ lacks turbulence

(Starring Eric Bondoc, Virginia Kull, Jeffery V. Thompson, and Henry Woronicz. Directed by Marc Masterson. An Actors Theatre of Louisville production. Continues through Feb. 2. For tickets, call 584-1205 or visit www.actorstheare.org.)“The Tempest,” currently running at Actors Theatre, is a gorgeous show, replete with good-to-outstanding performances, but it would be remiss to overlook the fact that it appears more time was spent concocting this pretty confection than really examining the ingredients in Shakespeare’s seemingly fanciful romance.  Prospero (Henry Woronicz), who was the Duke of Milan until his brother Antonio (William McNulty) usurped his position, escaped with his daughter Miranda (Virginia Kull) and his magical books to an island some 12 years ago. On the isle they discovered two beings: Ariel (Eric Bondoc), a spirit Prospero rescued from the witch Sycorax’s imprisonment; and Caliban (Jeffery V. Thompson), Sycorax’s son, both of whom became Prospero’s servants.  Upon realizing his brother and the royal party are sailing back to Italy after the wedding of the king’s daughter, Prospero has Ariel create a storm to shipwreck the passengers on his island so he can exact revenge upon those who betrayed him and set into motion his plan to marry his daughter to Ferdinand (Avery Glymph), the king’s son. The play, generally considered the last that Shakespeare solely authored, is unequivocally a theatrical dream. It practically begs for spectacle, and regarding such, Actors’ production is firing on all cylinders. From the billowing sheets and pouring sand that symbolize the tempest to Ariel and Caliban’s ingenious costuming to the ethereal live accompaniment of the Louisville band Rachel’s, the show is a sensual delight that whets the appetite. In fact, I collectively credit the designers with speaking most powerfully in this staging.  The actors all do their jobs just fine (notables include Aaron Munoz and Graham Smith), but Thompson (Caliban) takes the cake. Veering from eloquent speech to base behavior, Thompson deftly illustrates the dilemma of the slave, acting as a brute not because he is, but because his master’s tyranny made him into one.I wish more emphasis had been placed on exploring the contrasts and themes that populate the play — the justice Prospero longs to mete out even as he oppresses his “subjects”; the desire for monopolistic power; the comfort of the familiar, even if it’s enslavement; the real versus the mystical; the roles of master and servant. This deep delving into the psychological, societal and cultural arenas is why Shakespeare still rivets audiences today.Director Marc Masterson has assembled an impressive cast of designers who have done their jobs well, and yet at the conclusion of the play, I was left wanting. Yes, it’s a beautiful production, but it seems as if the vision for the show was only realized in the design elements, with the script receiving too little attention. A pretty picture is a feast for the eyes, but it sure does leave you hungry. —Rebecca Haithcoat•••‘Don We Now’ offers laughs for everyone(Directed by Greylyn Gregory. A Pandora Productions show. Continues through Jan. 13. For tickets, call 245-9676 or visit www.pandoraprods.org.)With its follow-up seasonal pleaser, “Don We Now MORE Gay Apparel,” Pandora Productions delivers a late Christmas gift to those who love laughter. This year’s burlesque revue is even funnier than 2006’s “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel.” It’s an antidote to the inevitable post-holiday disappointment in not getting what you want for Christmas (like world peace, of course).The company could have easily rested on its laurels and simply trotted out last year’s show with a few updates. But Pandora gives us all new material, thanks to artistic director Michael Drury’s vision. The show is like a bouillabaisse, with a little something for everyone. And the pacing doesn’t let up, leaving the audience no time to think about what it just saw. Highlights of this noisy, vulgar and utterly meaningless extravaganza (and therefore fun!) include parodies of popular musicals like “Mamma Mia,” “Hairspray” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” Susan Crocker’s “Here’s to the Ladies Who Munch” includes a trumpet solo when you least expect it. The audience happily joins in as she exhorts us to “Dive!” Robbie Smith’s tongue-in-cheek “Piggies, Cows and Sheep” is the funniest Cher homage I’ve ever seen. But the Charlie Brown Christmas Reunion skit steals the first act, with realistic costumes (down to the zigzag shirt). The actors’ broad gestures make this skit shine, smartly underscoring the outrageous dialog, including Peppermint Patty’s confrontation with her sexual ambiguity. The transitions between sketches are seamless, with Santa’s voice-over responses to letters from naughty politicians like Ernie Fletcher filling the empty space. If your leftover Christmas money is burning a hole in your stocking, treat yourself to an evening of fun and frivolity with this talented cast and crew. Be warned, the show contains extreme language and male nudity. —Sherry Deatrick