HFCC’s The Tempest is Otherworldly Experience

 

Andrassy, Tim/Dearborn Press and Guide/ 9 April 2003: C16                                               

     One can appreciate what George Popovich and the theatre arts department at Henry Ford Community College (HFCC) have done with their 1950’s sci-fi take on the bard’s betrayal and redemption love story of “The Tempest.” HFCC has taken Shakespeare’s lonely island and seafaring tale of “The Tempest,” set off the coast of Italy, and spun it into something out of this world — in another place and time.

 

     The set, on a small stage on the backside of the Adray Auditorium, is minimalist with three video screens and some molding and ladders jutting out in the audience. The seating is intimate and limited to 100 seats or so curving around the stage.

 

     Taking a page from the Theatre of Cruelty approach created by Antonin Artaud (1895-1848), a French Theatre revolutionist who created methods of acting and directing that attacked the senses and brought the audience into the play, a 1991 production of “Macbeth,” brought the College to the forefront of national experimental theater.

 

     Popovich and his new Virtual Theatricality Lab have continued to push the boundaries of tradition with this year’s “The Tempest.” 

 

     In order to create a stimulating experience, the College encourages the audience to wear 3D polarized glasses, which should be worn throughout the play. The VTL also uses haze, pyrotechnics, fog, lighting, and audio effects to create an otherworldly experience.

 

     Clocking in at just over 75 minutes, this tightly interwoven and condensed version of “The Tempest” is set in a time and space reminiscent of the old sci-fi television and film serials like “The Forbidden Planet,” and “The Day The Earth Stood Still.” In this modern twist we are introduced to a sorcerer-like overlord, Prospero, played by to perfection by veteran Shakespearean actor Greg Kjolhede, and his daughter Miranda, performed by 18-year old Natasha Rose Deguilo.

 

     Instead of the seafaring ship the audience witnesses a spaceship cruising through space and crash landing onto a planet inhabited by Prospero and Miranda. A digitized golden robot portrays a lively little sprite Ariel, who is visible only to Prospero. Joanna K. Graham voices the digital Ariel and also portrays Stephana, the drunken butler.

 

     Throughout the play, Ariel occasionally torments Caliban, brought amazingly to life by Jason Mercury. Caliban, in this setting, looks to be a mutant man-beast of a creature. Mercury’s costume is accented by lighted-tinged dreadlocks that glow at certain times of the performance.

 

     A mix of veteran and first-time talent portrays the seven-number crew of the ship quite convincingly, who are scattered after the crash. HFCC’s “The Tempest” does combine elements of tragedy (Prospero’s revenge) with those of romantic comedy, young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand, the son and heir to the Crown of Selnap thought to be dead after the crash.

 

     From there it is a trail of comic relief (Stephana, Trinculo, Caliban), revenge, (the plots to assassinate Prospero and to kill Alonzo, King of Selnap), rebellion, love, and peaceful coexistence. The HFCC cast and crew successfully creates a new Shakespearean world with their take of “The Tempest,” worthy of future exploration in experimental theater. “The Tempest” runs through April 26 at HFCC, 5101 Evergreen Road. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the Mackenzie Fine Arts building, or by calling 313-845-6475.

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