Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Again this summer, for four weeks, the Vortex Theatre and the City of Albuquerque are bringing us Shakespeare on the Plaza. The Civic Plaza in downtown Albuquerque, that is. It's not the most congenial spot for outdoor theater, being neither a green space nor a natural amphitheater, but just one square block of concrete surrounded by big buildings. Nevertheless, good Shakespeare can make you forget the infelicities and transport you to a charmed island of the imagination. For the most part, this production does just that.
The Tempest is an uncategorizable play: It's a revenge story that ends in forgiveness, and there's also magic and spirits, young love at first sight, two assassination plots (against Alonso and against Prospero), beautiful speeches, and coarse besotted humor. It's one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, but it still needs to be cut, and that has been judiciously done here by, I assume, director Julia Thudium, who has produced consistently wonderful work as both actor and director for several years.
Despite the trimming, the first half gets a little draggy until Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban show up. I used to think that their scenes were the most irritating parts of the play, but now I realize that they just need the right actors and direction to work. Miguel Martinez as Caliban, Marc Comstock as Trinculo, and especially the alway -excellent Brennan Foster as Stephano (in love with the sound a cork makes when it pops out of a bottle) kick the show back to life. Their "freedom" dance is the highlight of the evening.
All of the other actors do fine work too. Peter Shea Kierst (Prospero), already an exceptional Shakespearean, just keeps getting better and better. Amy Bourque and Quinn Scicluna are an attractive Miranda and Ferdinand. Debi Kierst, Sheridan Johnson, Mark Hisler, and Dave McDowell as the displaced Italian nobility all perform very well.
Julia has made some innovative directing choices. Antonio becomes Antonia, Sebastian becomes Bastienne, and she thus diversifies a play that normally has only one major female character. And do you cast a man or a woman as Ariel? How about both: Katie Farmin and Kelly O'Keefe, both very lively, simultaneously play the androgynous spirit.
How do you stage a shipwreck on a platform with minimal tech support? You cleverly make it an airship, a dirigible, which is a nod to Albuquerque being the hot air balloon capital of the world. This sets the play in the era when these things were flying around (does anyone remember Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines?) and lets costume designer Alyssa Salazar put people in steampunk outfits, which are sexy on the women but must be like wearing a sauna. I like the music by Sid Fendley, and the lighting by Casey Cundall is impressive after the sun goes down. The set, necessarily minimalist, by Vic Browder serves the action well.
The only problem is the amplified sound, which is often so muddy that even with paying close attention, I could not make out a lot of the dialogue. I could barely understand anything that Gonzalo said, and had trouble with several of the other characters as well. It's a dilemma: You have an open space with blowing winds which would be hard for the actors to project into, but when you put microphones on them, the sound quality is not good and all the voices come out of the same speaker. Unamplified voices would be preferable, but I don't know if everyone in the cast could pull it off.
On the whole, though, this Tempest makes for an excellent evening out in the open, and as if there were not enough magic in the play itself, it's free this year.
The Tempest is being presented in repertory with Much Ado about Nothing as Shakespeare on the Plaza, by the Vortex Theatre and the City of Albuquerque. Thursdays through Sundays at 7:30 (matinees would not work in this venue) through July 3, 2016. Schedule of performances can be found at www.vortexabq.org. Tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis, starting about two hours before the play begins. There is often pre-show entertainment, and food trucks and a beer vendor are on the plaza before the show and during intermission.