Photo: Vanessa Schonwald

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Opening Night:
October 2, 2014
November 2, 2014

Theater: La MaMa E.T.C. / 74A East Fourth Street, New York, NY, 10003


Internationally renowned director Karin Coonrod and Obie-award winning composer Elizabeth Swados bring their significant craft, daring, and imagination to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in a world-premiere music-theatre production at La MaMa. Featuring a diverse, intergenerational cast, including veteran film and television actor Reg E. Cathey as Prospero and Joseph Harrington, 14-year-old star of Broadway’s Billy Elliot, as Ariel.


    An Island of Eerie Lighting and Delightful Sounds
    A La MaMa ‘Tempest,’ With Music by Elizabeth Swados

    Laura Collins-Hughes

    October 14, 2014: The enchantment begins immediately, with a storm-tossed shipwreck made of shouted voices, a haze of fog and a speckled, celestial light cast by a giant metal orb. Pocked with holes, it’s lit from within, swaying like the wild sea. Then we are on the island in Karin Coonrod’s Tempest, starring Reg E. Cathey as a commanding, warmly paternal but weather-beaten Prospero. With music by Elizabeth Swados, this sonically lush production of Shakespeare’s late play — presented by La MaMa at the Ellen Stewart Theater — takes its cue from Prospero’s slave, Caliban. “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not,” he tells the drunken, deluded butler, Stephano. “Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices.” So it is for the audience, arrayed around three sides of the stage. Soft noises come at us from behind and above and we don’t know quite where in a layered soundscape of whistles, echoes, coos, breaths. From time to time, the musicians, too, roam Riccardo Hernandez’s spare set, a space both gymnastic (a quartet of ladders, which the actors climb) and magical (geometric white lines traced on the black floor).


    Music haunts Prospero's Island in Karin Coonrod and Elizabeth Swados' adaptation of Shakespeare's fantastical play

    Zachary Stewart

    October 9, 2014: If you close your eyes during Karin Coonrod's Tempest at La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre, you can hear magic all around you. Maintaining much of the Bard's original text, Coonrod has enlisted composer Elizabeth Swados (Runaways) to create original music and lyrics for Shakespeare's tale of sorcery, revenge, and romance. Although many of the song-and-dance numbers feel shoehorned in, the ambient sounds with which Coonrod and Swados underscore the play make for a very intimate theatrical experience. Prospero (Reg E. Cathey), the rightful Duke of Milan, has been overthrown by his treacherous brother Antonio (Earl Baker Jr). While in exile, Prospero uses magic to rule over an enchanted island. He is joined by his daughter Miranda (Miriam A. Hyman) and a magical servant named Ariel (Joseph Harrington). As Antonio returns from a wedding in Tunis, Prospero raises a storm that causes him to be shipwrecked on the island, along with the King of Naples, Alonso (Angus Hepburn) and his slimy brother, Sebastian (Sorab Wadia). Alonso's handsome son Ferdinand (Christopher McLinden) is also with them, and immediately catches the eye of Miranda. Prospero wants revenge, but Miranda wants romance.


    Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: TEMPEST (La MaMa)

    LindaAnn Loschiavo

    October 10, 2014: The Tempest offers a kaleidoscope of intrigue, betrayals, political shenanigans, murderous intent, monsters, masques, mayhem, magic, and romance. Julie Taymor’s disappointing 2010 big-screen, big-budget version proved that head-spinning CGI-candy is not enough to make all of these ingredients satisfying. Working with a stripped-down stage at La MaMa, director Karin Coonrod puts her stamp on Shakespeare’s second-shortest play (after The Comedy of Errors) in ways that are both laudable and occasionally baffling. While her production oddly softens some of the play’s harsher edges, it is delightful in many other ways. Coonrod begins with nontraditional casting. The Milanese nobles—Prospero, Miranda, and the perfidious Antonio—are played by black actors; both Trinculo, the king’s jester, and Gonzalo, trusted adviser to King Alonso of Naples, are performed by females in male drag; and the beast-man Caliban, the only other human inhabitant of the island who is “not honour’d with a human shape” is played by a very fit and handsome man.


    Review: The Tempest at La MaMa

    Tami Shaloum

    October 8, 2014: The Tempest begins, as always, with a great storm. Instead of complicated sound effects—whooshing gales, pounding rain, waves crashing on sinking ships—the sounds simply come from the vocals of the actors and musicians. Karin Coonrod and Elizabeth Swados' uneven production of Shakespeare’s final play revels in its finer details—the awesome lighting effect of a spherical pendulum that creates a constellation effect, the amazingly diverse range of instruments used as a soundscape, the dynamic mood lighting that signals to the audience who is on stage and how exactly to feel about that. In many ways, the story is itself uneven, and this production goes right along with it. First, you have the would-be dramatic main plot: Prospero (Reg E Cathey), former Duke of Milan, is betrayed by his brother Antonio (Earl Baker, Jr) and forced to live out his days on a deserted island with his beautiful daughter Miranda (Miriam A. Hyman), grotesque slave Caliban (Slate Holmgren), and dutiful spirit Ariel (Joseph Harrington). Prospero, a magician, conjures the tempest to strand his enemies on the island, including the complicit King of Naples Alonso (Angus Hepburn), and confront them. He splits them up, causing Alonso’s son Ferdinand (Christopher McLinden) to stumble upon the virginal Miranda and fall in love with her. There is also a subplot involving Antonio and Sebastian (Sorab Wadia), Alonso’s brother, conspiring to kill Alonso so Sebastian can be king. Most of the drama builds up without much pay off.


    A CurtainUp Review The Tempest

    Deirdre Donovan

    October 9, 2014: A triptych of Tempests is breezing through New York this season. The first, directed confidently by Karin Coonrod amd with music and lyrics by Elizabeth Swados, is now on the boards at La MaMa (at the Ellen Stewart Theatre). As part of the company's La MaMa Earth program, it weighs in with a social conscience and a nod to the world ecology. And, with the dynamic Reg E. Cathey as Prospero, it will speak cogently to New Yorkers who all too well remember the real-life devastations of Hurricane Sandy. Whereas most of the Tempests that I've seen on stage and film in recent years have whipped up faux storms of fierce proportions, Coonrod radically departs from this traditional staging and begins it in a hushed atmosphere. The entire cast, elegantly outfitted, silently file into the large rectangular performance space, which is swept bare except for a large black orb at center stage that is suspended by a wire from the flies.  As soon as the actors assume their stage positions, than a loud thunderclap sounds, and the performance space totally blacks out. Only the orb remains in view, now twinkling with lights, and swinging back and forth in pendulum fashion. A beat later, Prospero and his young daughter Miranda come to the fore. Prospero first quells her fears about the offshore shipwreck that she has just witnessed, then starts to tell her the strange personal history (and one of the longest expositions in the Bard's canon) that brought them to the remote island 14 years ago. Miranda strikingly sums up the political treachery which caused her father to lose his rightful dukedom to her power-grabbing Uncle Antonio: "Your tale, Sir would cure deafness." This production just might cure those theatergoers who have been deaf to this play's poetry and charms. Although Coonrod does toss in a generous dollop of symbolism with the pageant-like opening and the aforementioned pendulum that neatly suggests the movement of a ship pitching through colossal waves, it never gets heavy-handed.



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