Sunday, January 22, 2012


Still abuzz with the music of the Met Enchanted Island--loosely based as it  is on Shakespeare's tale of Prospero--we figured we'd take a flutter on the new (to us) gender-bender version, with the dispossessed wizard rechanneled through Helen Mirren.

Bottom line: file it under "rotten shame," or if you insist, "noble experiment."  As a whole it does not work, but that is a shame because the core of it in fact works quite resoundingly well.  The notion Prospero as a woman works better than any other Shakespearean crossover I can remember--much better, for example, than Ashland's Julius Caesar, for example, where the only reason for having a woman in the title role is that a woman wanted to play the title role.

Now reconsider: imagine Prospero as Prospera, the wise and beneficent duchess, cast aside by a brutish Brother and his gaggle of cronies. As Mirren herself as said, you have to change scarcely a line.  Unexpected side benefit: aside from Mirren herself, the finest thing about the show is the extended intimate dialogue between Mirren/Prospera and her young Miranda (Felcity Jones), so much better as girl-talk than as some kind of stilted father-daughter thing.

The trouble is that everything else is a mess.  It's as if Julie Taymor--the director--just said "whatever," and let everybody else just do whatever they wanted.  There's a formlessness, a sprawl, made (perhaps unintentionally) worse, by the formlessness and sprawl of the Hawaiian Island on which it was shot.  In this non-context, the brother and his cronies do a decent ensemble turn but you have to remind yourself how, if at all, it relates to the rest of the play. Ariel doesn't seem able to convey any grace or charm.Caliban is almost perfunctory in his (supposedly) suppressed lust and the comics--oh,dear, the comics.  Why is it so many movie funnymen either (a) don't know how to get  laugh out of Shakespeare; or (b) just don't seem to realize that there are any laughs to be had.  Not that it's rocket science: I've seen high school troupes that have you falling out of your chair with their caterwaulings under the blanket   Heck, I've seen my own grandkids crack themselves up with a homemade rendition on the living room floor.  Not this crowd; they're just punching in on the clock.   Which leaves just about everything in the hands of Mirren and Jones.  That's a heavy burden; the consolation is that they do carry it well. 

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