I saw The Tempest last night with a non-English major friend who was highly delighted that “everyone didn’t die at the end.” She also asked me if the players were “students or adults” (the talent of the actors did seem to exceed their years) and of course had no idea that most of the roles were changed from male to female roles until I revealed it to her during intermission. While I noticed the female Ariel, Alonsa, and Prospera, and admit I was skeptical about how the roles would play out, I feel the female roles did fit seamlessly into the play as a whole. While there was certainly a lot more emotion, such as Alonsa’s excessive tears, the sorrow in these women was consistently genuine. The women, therefore, did not express weakness as I expected, but gave me even more of a feel of hopelessness: the characters are convinced there is no hope to be found on this island, and that all of their loved ones are dead. Prospera’s speeches were gripping and powerful, especially toward the end when we learn she will not take revenge against her “enemies” after all. The emotion here is much more gentle and forgiving now that Prospero is a woman, and the ending scene where she sets Ariel and even Caliban free–which was not described in any detail in Shakespeare’s text–was especially beautiful. We see a bond between Prospera and Ariel that I did not get out of The Tempest as a text. Prospera even seems to grow some sense of compassion toward Caliban. A male Prospero, in my opinion, wouldn’t show the same empathy toward these characters and would heartily dismiss them, as he seems to do in Shakespeare’s text. This was a great interpretation of the text, beyond anything I would have came up with while considering a male Prospero. Also, I admit Ariel’s head scarf made me quite annoyed throughout the play, but when she takes it off when she is freed it all made sense.
Overall I was so impressed with the production as a whole: the acting, the set design, the technology (like Ariel’s voice mutation when the royals are denied their banquet.) I admit that my favorite scenes were between Trinculo, Caliban, and the suddenly Scottish Stefano, who was hilarious. Again, reading the text I’m sure I chuckled at some moments but I could never picture Stefano’s character actually stumbling around and slurring his words the way he achieved it on stage. Caliban was also one of my favorites; in the scenes leading up to his introduction I started wondering how the hell the director decided to portray this half-man and half-monster. His jumping around, loud speech, and jerking head movements, along with his face paint and tattoos, made for an authentic savage, without over-doing his monstrous qualities (I was afraid he might look like a product of Frankenstein).
Overall, again, I’d just like to express how impressed I was by the play overall. Other than the character portrayals I’ve already mentioned, Miranda and Ferdinand were adorable and innocent, and Sebastian and Antonio were stuck-up and sarcastic. Everyone brought a distinct characterization to the play that I feel is a lot harder to create in one’s mind while reading Shakespeare since we are more concerned in understanding the language than imagining specific personality traits for the characters. The play was beautifully done: it emphasized the importance of forgiveness over cruelty, but only after causing the audience to explode with laughter, and marveling at Prospera’s inner turmoil.