The Tempest

by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
Stanton’s drama department presented Shakespeare’s parting gift to the world, The Tempest on October 1-3 in the black box theatre on their campus. We wanted to see this play principally because the production incorporated puppets, which is unique for Shakespearean theatre. The play was also of interest to us since it is the favorite Shakespeare play for one of us and the least favorite for the other. At the end of the evening, we both came away with a special appreciation for this creative and outstanding production.
This complex play goes in different directions that include a sorcerer’s revenge, a shipwreck, a budding young romance, a monster, an enslaved spirit, and two separate plots that eventually merge.
With the exception of six characters, the rest were hand puppets created by Stanton student Austen Wietzel. Yes, indeed for the first few minutes, as I encountered all the puppets, I thought I had been transported onto a Sesame Street set. Looking like normal human beings were Michelle Lyman(Miranda) Prince Ferdinand ( Taylor Smith), and the three Goddesses, Iris (Weezie Wietzel) Ceres(Gianna Cifredo) and Juno (Loren Mullins).
The leading character Prospero was played by Alex Johnson and done as well as I have ever seen it on both professional and amateur stages. He wore a mask, which he took off at the very end, symbolizing his renunciation of his magical powers, and, in accordance with the script, evoking the assistance of the audience (through their applause) in ensuring the success of his future endeavors.
Michele Lyman and Taylor Smith were both well cast as the ardent young lovers. Lyman’s Miranda is convincingly innocent and naïve in response to Smith’s enamored Ferdinand.
I never thought I would be complimenting actors for laying down on the job, but all the shipwrecked souls were concealed on the floor as they used boards with wheels (like a creeper used by auto mechanics) for locomotion. We saw only their puppet characters, along with one arm for gestures, motion, and mouth movements. Of course the actors were speaking their lines loudly and clearly so that we could hear them in the audience.
We did see Jake Higdon, as Ariel’s puppeteer, who did an excellent job with both the puppetry, and a plaintive portrayal of the slave yearning for freedom (and who may be ready for Avenue Q next).
The shipwrecked souls included Nick Jones, Harrison Powell, Nathan Dennis, Joseph Bolling, Tiernan Middleton, Priscilla Brubeck, Austin Wietzel and Will Baxley. Heard but not seen were the shadow voices in the beginning shipwreck scene, done by Cheryl McCane (Boatswain) and Taylor English (Master).
Jake Harrelson probably had the most difficult costume preparation since as the monster Caliban he was painted green over most of his upper torso. Think the incredible Hulk with spikes growing out of his head and back and long pointed green nails. He was without a doubt the most elegant Caliban I’ve ever seen, both in costume and characterization.
The island consisted of cardboard cutouts spaced so the characters could roll through. They were painted cartoonish colors and included a set of waves and sand in the front of the stage, with mountains and clouds in the background.
While there has been humor in previous productions I have seen of this play, I never considered it one of Shakespeare’s principal comedies. Director Hemphill’s vision and version had a much lighter tone, and was often quite funny because of the puppets. Even Caliban, who is usually portrayed as a real horror, comes across as more misunderstood than a really bad guy.
We were impressed by the command of the language by all the cast members, and this was obviously a well rehearsed production. Our previous experience with a Stanton production was Urinetown several years ago. We have already marked our schedule for October 22-24 for the musical 1776, directed by Shirley Sacks and Jeff Grove. Evening performances are open to be public and if you are an avid theatre lover, you need to make a date to go see a Stanton College Prep High School performance.