Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
In theater, shutting up is hard. Not shutting up quickens the play’s pace, making the audience wish they had a moment to process what the heck is going on. Being silent for too long, on the other hand, makes the audience shift uncomfortably in their seats, making them pay too much attention to a stray cough or an antsy theater-goer. It mirrors real life: we fill space with words to make others feel comfortable.
Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, runs through Feb. 24. ppt.org
The first 20 minutes of Pittsburgh Public Theater’s “The Tempest” is a masterclass in the art of shutting up. With Andre Pluess’ original music as the only sound, the actors walk through Prospero’s (Tamara Tunie) hospital room in the oncology ward, using only facial expressions, gestures, movement and posture to show the audiences their character’s nuances before we enter Prospero’s fever dream.
It’s in these 20 minutes that you realize this version of “The Tempest” is going to be something special. “Something special” where you keep the program as a momento for what you saw onstage, where it’s hard to put into words how the production made you feel because it’s just that good, where the audience almost immediately stands up when the play ends before the company bows, where you catch Tunie gratefully and wistfully looking into the audience 10 feet from where you’re sitting.
Pittsburgh Public Theater’s (PPT) “The Tempest,” by William Shakespeare and adapted by PPT artistic director Marya Sea Kaminski, keeps the essence of Shakespeare’s tale of betrayal and forgiveness, but adds illness as something that’s treacherous and double-dealing, with Prospero coming to terms with her breast cancer and its effect on her friends and family.
It seems like the production knows it’s trying to reach a modern audience. For example, although serious theatergoers may think Ariel and her nymphs performing a Supremes-esque concert when Prospero blesses Miranda and Ferdinand’s union is kitschy and cheesy, those who can have a little fun won’t mind the joyous, cheeky moment.
Carnegie Mellon University is known for producing many, many talented people. Tunie, however, is really something else. There are many adjectives one could use to describe her performance, but they all feel cliche. Seeing her live onstage is a gift.
Although Tunie’s name and likeness is emblazoned on all promotional materials for “The Tempest,” there’s no standout star. Every cast member gives an incredibly strong performance, making “The Tempest” an ensemble work. With that said, sassy nurse-fish-monster Caliban (Shammen McCune), silly Trinculo (Jamie Agnello) and clownish Stephano (Bethany Caputo) all garnered plenty of laughs from the audience while onstage together.
L.B. Morse’s scenic design is also incredible. With an icy set that reaches the PPT’s second balcony, combined with projections and lights, Morse has created a beautiful, spectacular representation of the mystical, chilly fever dream inside Prospero’s mind.
If Marya Sea Kaminski wanted her directorial debut at PPT to make a splash, it certainly did, guiding an incredible cast and bringing creatives together to make a damn fine piece of theater.