VU Theatre’s ‘The Tempest’ implements risky setting change

Mary Elizabeth Donovan

William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is about Prospero, a sorcerer and former Duke of Milan. His jealous brother Antonio banishes Prospero and his daughter to an island. The play, in essence, is about the subsequent shipwreck of Antonio and many others and the three subplots that follow. However, if you asked anyone in the Vasey audience about the Villanova Theatre’s version, I doubt they could tell you that the main character’s name is Prospero.

Shakespeare’s “Tempest” opens with Prospero conjuring up a storm, or a tempest, so that a passing ship runs aground. In this ship are King Alonso, Antonio, Alonso’s brother Sebastian, Alonso’s royal advisor Gonzalo and Alonso’s son Ferdinand, among others.

For the last 12 years, Prospero has been on this island with his daughter, Miranda. He possesses sorcery due to his vast knowledge and extensive library. At some point during his time on the island, he rescued a spirit named Ariel from a tree, and the spirit fell into his service. Eventually, due to Prospero’s magical actions, a storm occurs and the ship lands on the island. The ship’s party becomes separated, and three plots alternate throughout the play.

Director Shawn Kairschner’s choice of an insane asylum as the setting was a creative, yet risky selection. Apparently, the characters were committed members of a mental institution and were acting out the storm and shipwreck. In Shakespearean fashion, this comedic play is already convoluted. Personally, I had neither seen nor read “The Tempest” before watching this production. I think this worked to my disadvantage, because it was very hard for me to follow. In fact, the longer I watched the play, the more confused I became. It was more than that, though. I did not understand what was going on in the play, but frankly, I did not care.

The stage was way too busy. Between all the characters, the music, the motion and the general noise, I cannot imagine that it was easy for anyone to follow. Such a drastic setting change for an already complex play was a bad choice on the director’s part. Although an insane asylum parallels a deserted island in some ways, the director should have sympathized more with the audience and less with his creative license. Granted, like a deserted island, the patients in a mental institution would have felt a similar sense of imprisonment, but this play was intended to be a comedy, and the stark elements of the stage such as the lighting, the colors and the set did not allow for humor. I distinctly remember a joke in the early part of the play, and I only remember it because, in the sold-out crowd, I heard one person laugh. If the director was trying to make a point, he chose the wrong play.

The Villanova Theatre and Kairschner did some things very well in their production of “The Tempest.”

Kairschner had a distinct vision and idea about this play, and I believe that the play illustrates that vision.

The actors and actresses played their parts according to Kairschner’s direction, and they performed solidly. Also, the costumes are worth mentioning because they added personality and emotion to each of the characters. Ariel, for instance, puts on a headdress at the end of the introduction, and it has the effect of transforming her into the spirit she is supposed to represent.

Ten minutes in, I looked around and noticed that at least four people had fallen asleep.

Sure the acting was good, but at the end of the day, it takes more than good acting to keep the audience awake during a play.