By Joel Pierson, H-T Theater columnist
I have a soft spot in my heart for “The Tempest.” It’s William Shakespeare’s final play, his farewell performance, if you will, and it’s all about saying goodbye when you know the time has come. It features some classic plot devices from his comedies, but it’s not a laugh-out-loud romp. It features elements from his historical works, but it’s an outright fiction, rich with loyalty and betrayal, monsters and magic. This makes it unique and beautiful and special.
Our friends at the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance know this, and they’ve asked visiting assistant professor Henry Woronicz to direct. Smart move, given his long tenure with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and numerous others. I selfishly wished that he would also take on the role of Prospero, but this is a student cast, and I respect that. The honor goes to third-year MFA actor Matthew Murry, in his thesis role. With Henry as his guide, I know it will be a winner.
“The Tempest” tells the story of Prospero, the overthrown duke of Milan, who is exiled to a mysterious island with his teenage daughter, Miranda. There he makes servants of a sprite named Ariel and a monster named Caliban, as he develops his talents for sorcery. When he learns that the very people who wronged him are on a ship near the island, he conjures a storm to run them aground and begin a very serviceable revenge upon them. Or so it was written.
“This is not your father’s ‘Tempest,’” says Woronicz, however. “We’re trying to make it very modern in some ways. It takes place in a world that Prospero has manipulated and created on this island with the help of the spirit Ariel.”
This production reimagines the island as a timeless world. The scenic design by MFA student Kevin Nelson makes use of hanging fabrics, allowing cast members to use aerial silks acrobatics to work their magic. (And if you’ve never seen an aerial silks performance, it’s worth the price of admission all by itself.) Visual projections designed by Reuben Lucas help bring the magic of Prospero and Ariel to life for the audience.
The director offers, “‘The Tempest’ is about a man who has removed himself from life and paid the price for it, losing his dukedom and finding his way back to humanity with his daughter. Ultimately it’s about forgiveness and redemption.”
Another unconventional aspect to the production involves the casting of the monstrous Caliban, to be played by MFA actor Ashley Dillard. Curiously enough, the role of Caliban — neither man nor woman — has almost always been played by male actors. Woronicz and Dillard are out to shake up that tradition, as the actress explains: “On the outside, Caliban is nothing like any of the characters I’ve ever played before, but on the inside he’s going through the same things as everyone else: he wants freedom, he wants love, he wants to feel safe.”
With a lush visual style and an original musical score composed by Jacobs School of Music student Paul Mortilla, “The Tempest” looks to be the latest in a long line of top-quality IU Shakespeare productions.
Contact Joel by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Pierson” in the subject line.
If you go
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance
WHAT: “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Feb. 28, March 4; 2 p.m. March 4
WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington
TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.