|Mary Ewald as Prospero in The Tempest (Shawn Hardison)|
New City Theater
Through April 30, 2016
The tiny storefront venue of New City Theater can change just about any stage viewing experience dramatically, just because it’s so tiny. The intimate environment almost plunges one into the action of the play. So it is with their mounting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which you have two more weekends to catch.
They’ve covered the playing area with fine white sand, since this island play deserves a beachy feel (designed by Nina Moser). The presentation is spare, except for fantasy-appropriate clothing (also by Moser). The 14 players are mere inches away from the 49 seat audience!
This production, directed by John Kazanjian, allows Mary Ewald to play either Duke Prospero or Slave Calaban and swap roles with Peter Crook. Also, Susan Corzatte and Cynthia Whalen play the King and his brother, and Meme Garcia gets a couple of small male roles, and Julie Jamieson plays servant Trinculo (opposite her son Harry Todd Jamieson as Stephano). The other roles, Duke Antonio (Kevin McKeon), friend to Prospero, Gonzalo (Seanjohn Walsh), Ferdinand, the King’s son (Brandon J. Simmons), Miranda, Prospero’s daughter (Skylar Tatro), and Sprite Ariel (Elena Ewald Kazanjian) are un-gender-swapped.
This mystery play by Shakespeare involves lots of magical coincidences. Prospero, who has developed magical powers on the island he’s been living on in exile, is able to founder a boat containing his usurping brother and the King and company, without losing the boat or hurting any passengers. Through his servant Ariel, he then is able to reveal Antonio’s perfidy, help his daughter fall in love with the King’s son, and school the “monster” Caliban from betraying him.
The production adds a capella musical moments, arranged by singer Nancy Brasseale, with Ewald Kazanjian displaying a lovely singing voice, and joined by Piper Carafa-Olson. This allows for breaks from the action, and also augments the magic by weaving a spell on the audience.
New City has a pure aesthetic with Shakespeare and provides a deep understanding of the text. It’s also fun to see Mary Ewald (as I did) take on a powerful man. It changes the dynamic of the meaning of the play when a woman is disenfranchised of her right of ascension and ends up banished to an island.
The Jamiesons are a fun duo, playing clowns with each other, too. There are a lot of moments to appreciate here. You quickly forget the gender swaps and just enjoy the cast.
This may turn out to be one of their last Shakespearean productions, so you should probably work extra hard to get over to see it!