A few years ago my husband G. Grod and I subscribed for two seasons to the most well-known local theater. We saw some good shows, but two seasons was enough for me. In the end, all the plays seemed the same; the creative director had homogenized them to the point of blandness. This put me off theater for quite some time. Recently, though, I was seized with an urge for Shakespeare. With a baby due in less than three months, I will not soon have three hour chunks of time to do with as I wish. I was lucky in that I could choose between an all-male production of Measure for Measure at the aforementioned theater, or an all-female production of The Tempest at Theatre Unbound. The latter seemed an obvious choice.
The program for the production noted something else obvious, though it hadn’t occurred to me. Even though theater no longer insists that all its players be male, the number of roles for women is still quite small. Staging an all-female production gives more women the opportunity to play more Shakespeare.
The room was small, and the staging consisted only of a small number of props and some versatile drapes. This was a wise choice, as it let the audience focus on both the play itself and its gender-bending production. It was also a brave one, since The Tempest is a play with so many supernatural elements that it would be easy to justify an extravagant staging.
As with many productions some performances were forgettable, while others were striking. Caliban was played with such ferocious intensity that s/he was painful to watch, while Ariel was played with such humor and physical grace that s/he drew all eyes when on stage. The performance that most made me think, though, was that of Prospero. The actor was skilled, but her manly suit could not mask a motherly mien. To have the meddling father of Prospero embodied in a mother’s physique made me realize that the meddling is creepy no matter which parent is doing it.
Another upside to seeing The Tempest is that it is a short play. It is not one that is usually edited, so that when you see the production you are usually seeing the entire text enacted. I re-read the play for the performance, which was #88 in my book challenge for the year. A good and learned friend recommended the individual Arden editions to me years ago; they have since been my volumes of choice. My husband G. Grod prefers his Penguin omnibus, but I like one play at a time, even with scads of footnotes to a page, even when those footnotes are politely vague:
Act IV, Scene I, line 236. Now is the jerkin under the line…Malone records a suggestion that the jest is less decent than any of these conjectures.
My favorite line from the play has never been a famous one. It is spoken by the drunk:
I am not Stephano, but a cramp. (Act V, Scene I, line 286)
It was a particularly apt one, since the next morning my uterus decided to express outrage over who knows what, and began a series of painful but ultimately non-harmful cramps that landed me in the hospital on monitors for five hours. I’ve been resting and hydrating since, and all cramps have abated. Like the characters in The Tempest, I seem to have weathered this particular storm.