From the Rogue's stage to our ears.
What with political correctness and race being so closely linked to slavery these days, William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” has a few more buzz words than you might think. Generally accepted cultural standards are changing so fast.
Remember how we used to laugh at comedians playing drunks on stage and in the movies? We don’t do that anymore. The woeful Caliban, whose island was ursuped by Prospero, used to be played for laughs, too.
Now in the elaborately costumed and choreographed Rogue Theatre production of “The Tempest” directed by Cynthia Meier, when Joseph McGrath as Caliban spits out the world “slave” it electrifies the air. Shocks and shudders sweep through the audience.
Caliban the stumblebum is transformed from being a joke to being a political figure with social symbolism stretching farther than Shakespeare could ever have imagined.
Prospero the good magician, even though he was robbed of his own kingdom in Italy, is no longer as sympathetic a figure. Didn’t he steal this lovely island from Caliban? The cowering creature may not be worthy of our respect, but he did live here happily enough before Prospero arrived by boat with his young daughter Miranda.
But maybe it’s OK if we laugh at Caliban’s groveling, boot-licking antics today since he was created in the early 17th century – that's about the same time European explorers and settlers began pushing Native Americans out of their homes.
It’s generally accepted “The Tempest” was written some four hundred years ago. People in England knew about the New World. Shakespeare with his usual foresight could see there would be problems.
Thus “The Tempest” is worth seeing, if for no other reason than having the chance to talk about these current issues from a longer and more literary perspective.
Last season the Rogue found timely success with its production of “Othello” as a story about race issues. Now this brave new company could follow up “The Tempest” next season with “The Merchant of Venice” to discuss anti-Semitism. Then do “The Taming of the Shrew” so feminists get some of the Bard’s attention.
If Hilary Clinton ever gets elected President of the United States, “Macbeth” will be in order.
How did Shakespeare do it? He really was the Man for all Seasons.
As for “The Tempest” at the Rogue Theatre, it is a kick to see John Wilson fill the magical robes of Prospero. If ever there was a performer with a constant twinkle in his eye, it is Wilson – he personifies the spirit of a true magician who can’t resist stirring up a little mischief now and then.
Now enjoying himself as Professor Emeritus of the University Of Arizona School Of Dance, Wilson gives the role an easy elegance perfect for this figure in complete control of his world and his life.
Such willowy ease of movement blossoms in the choreography of Ariel (Patty Gallagher) and the three mystical spirits, Ceres (Leanne Whitewolf Charleton), Iris (Carrie J. Cole) and Juno (Jenna Johnson).
Balletomanes know Johnson as a principle dancer with Ballet Tucson. The choreographer is Daniel Precup, also a principle dancer with Ballet Tucson.
The aforementioned Caliban gets muscled up a bit in McGrath’s performance. His subservience feels more calculated, like the defeated man who runs away so he can fight another day.
Dallas Thomas has the small but critical role of Prospero’s adolescent daughter Miranda. She perfectly captures the delight we would imagine when a girl who has never seen any other male except her father suddenly discovers there are other men, especially younger ones, in the world.
Jon Benda as Gonzalo and David Morden as Stephano get extra mileage from their roles, as well. Ryan DeLuca makes young Trinculo memorable in his comedy bits as this shipwrecked party from Milan wanders about Prospero’s island.
“The Tempest” continues in performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, to Jan. 23 at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Special prelude music 15 minutes before each performance. Tickets are $25; Jan. 13 and Jan. 20 are “$25 or pay-what-you-will,” with reservations encouraged. Half-price student rush tickets 15 minutes before curtain, with current ID. For details and reservations, 520-551-2052, or visit www.TheRogueTheatre.org