"Thy sighs... Without a sudden calm, will overset Thy tempest-tossed body" (Romeo & Juliet)
My wife and I returned to the Allen Elizabethan Theatre in June of this year, having last been there in August 2019 to see a performance of All's Well that Ends Well. The cast for that production included Kevin Kenerly and Royer Bockus, both of whom took central roles in the plays which opened that theatre in the 2022 season. The Tempest and Revenge Song will run until October, but, disappointingly, neither play attracted a full house on opening night.
How long does it take to get from Romeo to Caliban? In the case of Kevin Kenerly at OSF the answer is nineteen years - from 2003 to 2022. He is a fine verse speaker and a consistently reliable performer, ably supported in this production by Michael J. Hume as Gonzago (with even more OSF seasons under his belt!), and Tyrone Wilson, another multi-seasoned OSF veteran as Alonso. Overall, this production had a strong cast including William Thomas Hodgson as Ferdinand, who made the most of what is often a nothing part.
I last saw this play in 2017 in London, with Simon Russell Beale as Prospero. That was a somewhat whimsical version with Ariel in part as a hologram. OSF's production was less tricky, although it did use projections for the masque in Act Four, which certainly helped maintain the pace. The director made good use of space and all its levels: Prospero's book was prominent on the upper level, the trapdoor was brought into play, and, at times, the cast was frozen into poses.
The second scene always presents a challenge. After the spectacle of the shipwreck, Prospero's recounting of the story so far can be tedious, and might be regarded as bad writing (along with the fact that Prospero announces that "Our revels now are ended" some 600 lines before the play actually closes), but director Nicholas C. Avila has overcome this potential pitfall and his Miranda (Grace Chang Ng) is attentive in her role of surrogate audience. Ng was previously seen at OSF in Peter and the Starcatcher, a play which had a very short run in 2020 before Covid struck. She had a nice comic moment in Act Three of this production when Miranda proved to be more than a match for Ferdinand in the hauling of logs.
Geoffrey Warren Barnes II was a splendidly androgynous and emotional Ariel with magnificent wings, and, all in all, this was a reading of the play which traditionalists will love - not least for its use of Jacobean costumes (which would, of course, have been "modern dress" in Shakespeare's day). The comic pairing of a young Stephano and Trinculo (Jonathan Fisher and Amy Lizardo) was as engaging as any I've seen, and had the audience eating out of their hands, while James Ryen's Caliban demonstrated just how versatile an actor he is.
It is a feature of the OSF season that no play, however good, can have its run extended, and no play, however bad, can close early.
I also learned something new from this production - something I should have known long ago. I’d always imagined that, in the final scene, after Antonio had been unmasked as a villain, he says nothing (like his namesake in the final scene of Twelfth Night). In this production, however, I noted that Al Espinosa as Antonio joined in the mocking of Caliban et al. I can only assume that either this line was cut in other versions that I’ve seen or that I was not paying full attention to those productions, perhaps having struggled with the masque.
Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone had a very successful run in the Thomas Theatre in 2016 and its sequel Poor Yella Rednecks was scheduled to be staged in the Angus Bowmer Theatre in 2020 and was eagerly anticipated. By the time you read this, you will probably have learned that Qui Nguyen’s Revenge Song has evoked sharply different reactions from those who have seen it (and even from those who haven’t seen it!).
This musical was first staged In Los Angeles in February 2020, and comes to OSF directed by Robert Ross Parker. I have no doubt that this production is designed to appeal to a younger demographic, and it is described in the publicity in these terms:
"Buckle up for a musical story about Julie d’Aubigny — a queer 17th-century rule-breaking, sword fighting, opera-singing transgressor of boundaries. It’ll be loud, it’ll be rowdy, and it’ll be hilarious!"
Julie is played by Reina Guthrie, making her OSF debut, and Royer Bockus has the other principal role. The website for the production also carries warnings:
"Revenge Song contains strong profanity, ... sexuality and sexual dialogue, alcohol and drug abuse, ...violence, ... misogyny... "
I have not included all the warnings listed, but I have to confess that this play was not to my taste: it reminded me too much of student "events" designed solely to shock the faculty. I suspect that there will be those who leave at the intermission. My feeling is that there are so many good plays out there which would have attracted a younger audience and which would have been more worthwhile to stage, including Poor Yella Rednecks. It is a feature of the OSF season that no play, however good, can have its run extended, and no play, however bad, can close early. Even with the reduced ticket prices currently on offer, it’s hard to see this one filling a 1,200 seat theatre all season. I hope that I’m wrong.