“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” A series of blackout tableaux like snapshots: Prospero and Caliban; “Melted into air, thin air;” then Prospero alone, touching the rude crown, cloak and staff that accoutered Caliban; then crowning himself, taking up the feathered magic staff: “Our revels now are ended ...”
Hooded spirits watch Miranda read to Caliban, a mask atop his head leering when he crouches: “The cloud hath powers ...” Then a storm of human and spirit bodies as Prospero shouts, presiding from above as they are cast about, tossing on the weblike rigging that drapes the set, almost dancing as they flounder ...
So begins Ragged Wing Ensemble’s spellbinding show of The Tempest, that last great play of The Bard wherein it’s thought he takes his bow as Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, as he leaves the exile of his desert isle, renouncing both magic and earthly powers.
The levels of the Metal Shop Theatre (behind Willard School on Telegraph) are hung with rigging and a stylized sail (set by Sarah Samonsky) that doubles as a screen for the exceptional video scenography by Aiden Fraser (himself doubling nicely in baggy pants, floppy hat and suspenders as Trinculo, the drunken jester). But the mainstay of the action is literally that: Ragged Wing, since their inception two years and two shows ago, has been an exciting collective of practitioners of physical theater moving together.
In this production, directed with clarity and imagination by Keith Cory Davis, Ragged Wing shows what it can do with a redoubtable monument of dramaturgy—and they outdo themselves. Their previous outings were an exciting staging of a somewhat faded ’60s experimental pastiche, The Serpent, and an original, a kind of psychodramatic fantasy that riffed off of “The Snow Queen,” Splinters ... and Other F-Words, by company member Andrea Hart.
Those pieces suited their purposes well, but the real possibilities and power of their approach has become apparent now, harnessed to the dramatic engine of Shakespeare’s parable of exile, magic and redemption.
There are fine performances, especially pert Amy Sass (also choreographer) as a wound-up, spring-tight Ariel, almost maliciously proud of magical prowess, yet abashed at servitude to Prospero. A procession of almost unreadable emotions cross that silvered face, or it’s deadpan as the spirit hangs like a spider from the rigging, watching, waiting for the moment to insinuate its sorcery. Jeffrey Hoffman plays a wronged Prospero who can vent his rage and then back off, in light of his larger, gentler ambitions.
Many of the performances are enhanced in ensemble: Maya Gurantz (founder of Ten Red Hen) as acerbic King Alonso, with Mark Jordan’s gimped-up but genial optimist, Gonzalo; Christine Odera’s snaky Caliban glows with humor when teaming up with the baggy-pants comedian-tipplers Stephano (a splendid Phil Wharton) and above-mentioned Trinculo, exchanging spirits from a bottle for betrayal of Prospero: “first possess his books!”
There are some unusual cuts—the songs are deep-sixed—but the dialogue is crystal-clear and the play’s intention unwavering, with fine detail down to the costuming and the red-glove-to-mouth chorus of spirits drawn from high school students. More refreshing than many a Shakespeare festival, and a fascinating panoply of riotous movement and quiet moments of romance and reflection, Ragged Wing’s The Tempest opens up a new era for a still very young—and very talented—local troupe.
Photograph: Andrea Hart
Phil Wharton as Stephano and Christine Odera as
Caliban in Ragged Wing Ensemble’s The Tempest.
Presented by Ragged Wing Ensemble at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 17. $15-25. Metal Shop Theatre,
2425 Stuart St.
(800) 838-3006. or www.raggedwing.org