Tempest Ardor (The review of SSC's performance of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest")

As soon as I turned the key in the ignition, I let my car run for a while in the Peabody Hall parking lot at Salem State and attempted to create some sort of order to the chaos that had taken residence in my head. I sat in silence, trying to compose the opening of this review so that I might start it upon getting home, but every time I would grasp on a coherent thought it would slip away. My car ran for a while, needless to say.

I loved the theater department's adaptation of it. I did. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. The acting was incredible, the sound effects were appropriate and resonated in the small spiritual part of me, and the set blew me away. However, I couldn't help but have trouble reconciling it with the play I'd read and picked apart in class and on my own. It was almost as if there were two plays, one by Shakespeare and one by the SSC drama department, both carrying the same characters, plot, and message. As if it was incidental that they both should be called The Tempest.

The differences between the two came down to tone and mood. When I first read The Tempest, I never found much light-heartedness to it. It was a solemn read about forgiveness and retribution, not to mention colonization, but the tone always seemed so somber to me. However, actually seeing it performed with such enthusiasm and humor made it seem like a totally different play. Even something simple as tone made all the difference. I enjoyed both versions, the solemn prose of it on paper and the sweet airiness on stage.

But enough about that. Onto the actual review.

The very first thing that struck me (other than how uncomfortable the seats were) was the set. Whoever was in charge of set direction deserves a fruit basket the size of the sandy cliff they created. It looked as if a small portion of the base of the cliffs of Dover had been broken off and transported to Main Stage, where flawlessly-created rocks and real sand were scattered around it. Not once did I think to myself, "Wow. That's shoddy." I've seen shoddy sets. This, however... It was strong, sturdy and frighteningly beautiful for a college production.

And while the music and lighting were on-cue and added to the show, it was (of course) the acting that really made my breath catch.

First and foremost, there was Jaime Slatt as the spirit Ariel. I had seen Slatt in one play previous to this and while her performance was decent, it wasn't memorable for me. However, her performance this time around will stick with me every time I see her in other roles and every time I read The Tempest. She was absolutely out of this world. Every movement, every inflection in her words, every smile, every conniving wink was executed with grace and professionalism and joy. Slatt sloughed off her own skin and stepped into that of a faerie, flouncing and practically soaring across the stage, laughing and grinning all the while. There wasn't a single moment that I wasn't completely on board with her role. She stole the show.

I hadn't heard of Brian Sergant until I saw the playbill and made a moue of interest at the fact that Mr. Sergant is from New Zealand. I mentioned in a review of some movie or TV show that all of the best actors come from overseas. This is no exception. The first thing that I noticed about Sergant was his presence onstage. He had complete command over himself, the other actors, and the audience. I fell under his thrall right from the get-go and hung on every word that dripped from his lips like a fine wine, delivered like a true monarch, all tumbling trills and fluid form. He sounded and acted as an exiled ruler might, indignant yet retaining the utmost regality. It was a beautiful thing to behold and I can only hope that New Zealand will send over 200 more just like him so that we might break the mediocrity we've come to rely on when it comes to entertainment in America.

Mike Zuccolo is, apparently, a newcomer to the Salem State stage and what a debut he made! I had a small talk with Patricia Buchanan about his portrayal of Caliban and we both agreed that it was nothing short of phenomenal. He was crude, "uncivilized", and so earnest in his endeavors to be free of Prospero's hold that you couldn't help but pity him. When I read The Tempest, I held nothing but disinterest in his excuses and devilish actions, but Zuccolo actually made me sympathize with him. I walked away from his performance with a grin and a modicum of sadness in my heart.

Oh, Joe Coppellotti and Andrew Mattox II. My dynamic duo. While I've never seen Coppellotti perform previous to this, I did have the good fortune to see Mattox II in Twelve Angry Jurors last year and it was his performance that stuck with me -- I can still see him in my mind as Juror #10, trembling with the force of his rage and so steadfast in his rather violent convictions, body cooking in the sweltering heat (both figurative and literal), until he ended the show as a broken man. He was just as fantastic then as he is as Antonio. However, his performance relied on that of Coppellotti's, both taking part in an odd symbiosis that would have broken down had one of them faltered; one could not have worked without the other. These two fine actors brought a bit of something new to the play, at least for me: sarcasm. Every time they spoke, even while plotting the deaths of the members of their party, their words were caked in it. It was a genuine touch that also made me sympathize with them. I'd read both Antonio and Sebastian to be cunning and dark would-be assassins, but their portrayal made me see them as men, desperate for power. And the expression of abject horror on Antonio's face upon seeing Prospero alive? Priceless.

The other winning couple, Robert Savage and Tony Rossi, were HILARIOUS. I've never enjoyed watching two drunk people so much in my life. Their raucous humor and crazy antics brought the show to dazzling heights, proving once again that Shakespeare's words can hold meaning for everyone of all generations so long as the right people are delivering the lines.

Hannah Cranton in her final performance at SSC was beautiful. She was beautiful as Miranda, the ingénue of the island, who falls in love with the rather dashing Ferdinand (Ricardo Martins). While Cranton played up her character's wholesomeness and naiveté, Martins played Ferdinand as the hopeful suitor, undergoing Prospero's tests without so much as a peep. That wishful demeanor showed in Martins's face (I was close enough to see) and how desperate he was to be able to hold Miranda's hand without fear of censure. It was sweet without being saccharine and undeniably romantic.

All of the minor characters were great (the three goddesses were amazing), but out of all of them Nicole Leostakos's Gonzalo was superb. I was rather impressed with the way she carried herself like a portly man, the way her voice never cracked on her baritone, and the blinding passion that infused her every word. Her Gonzalo reminded me of an uncle that you never get to see often but never leave his side when he does finally come to visit. I'm sad to see her leaving SSC, because that means I won't get to see her in anything else.

All of this and more came together in a gelignite-covered play that left the audience either in stitches or totally enraptured. There is something magical about seeing a play this well put together on opening night and I am overwhelmingly positive that the feeling will resound from now until the end of its run in December.

Thank you to the cast and crew of The Tempest for such a memorable night. And I apologize for coughing so much -- I'm getting over a cold.

Salem State College's production of The Tempest is running until December 7th. Tickets are $15 for the general public, $10 for a student ID or for seniors, and FREE for SSC students (with ID). No one has an excuse to miss this.

I give SSC's The Tempest 5 out of 5.


Celebrity, and why that word is stupid

Once upon a time, yours truly went to NYC to see Suddenly Last Summer, starring Blythe Danner, Gale Harold, and Carla Gugino. The play wasn't good, but my friends and I waited at the stage door nonetheless to catch a glimpse of the actors.

It was cold, rainy, and I could feel it rattling in my lungs, but no one else seemed to pay heed to the weather conditions. They clamored to get as close to the barrier rope as possible, all of them praying for the chance to see Gale Harold, who eventually emerged in an unfashionable ensemble that I mentally picked apart, just as I would anyone else.

I, too, went up, mostly because he and I had the same hat. And while the other girls cooed and tittered over him, we struck up a short, normal conversation full of sarcasm but graciousness. I was pleasant, so was he, and that was that.

My friends forbade me to ever talk to another celebrity again because I "did it wrong".

I've thought long and hard about this. My feelings haven't changed. Sure, I have my celebrity crushes (Nathan, Sean, Cate, and David Tennant), but I recognize these people as simply that: people.

Acting isn't what it used to be. Back when Hollywood was emerging, acting was about the art. It was about emotion, passion, pushing your body to its absolute limit so it might show up on the brand new Technicolor film. It was Marlon Brando, screaming in the streets. It was Anne Bancroft, a goddess seducing a teenager. It was Fred and Ginger, dancing on pockets of romance and night. These actors and actresses were humble, genuine, and unafraid to take risks.

Now, it's a status symbol. One celebrity can shut down an entire terminal of an airport upon arrival. Malls close for them. Normal, everyday people trip over themselves just to see them, will spend absorbent amounts of money to meet them.

Doesn't anyone realize that acting is simply a job for these celebrities? That's what it all comes down to, at least for me. This is their job, their occupation. Their job is to entertain, just as it's your co-worker's job to make sure there are cover sheets on your TPS reports, just as it's your boss's job to keep you in line and make sure you're not wanking to internet porn during company hours. But you don't see paparazzi lining the elevator when your superior comes into work in the morning, nor do you see restaurants and department stores giving things away for free just because your neighbor, the accountant; the teacher; the cashier walked through the door. Acting is their job -- granted, it's one of the coolest jobs to have, but it's still a job.

I don't go crazy over celebrities because they're regular people. So the next time you see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie walking down the street together, leave them alone. You don't harass other complete strangers for living their lives. Extend celebrities the same courtesy.

It's just a job, people. Just a job.


I'm a little late on this, I know, so shut up (A review on the fictional novel, "World War Z")

It's about time I started reviewing books. Ever since I started this blog (and I use the term lightly), I really haven't had the time to sit down and read a good book. Then after an influx of recommendations and threats that I was committing crimes against humanity by not reading it (because apparently I was the only one left on the planet who hadn't read it), I decided to pick up Max Brooks's World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

I know what you're thinking: "A zombie novel? Seriously?"


At first I was like, "I hope I didn't just shell out $15 bucks for a dud." And then I read the first page. I looked up and it was suddenly, like, three hours later and I was half-way done with the book. I couldn't put it down after that. Everywhere I went, it came with me. If I went to school, so did it. If I had two minutes before class started, out it came. If I brought it out to read in the cafeteria between classes, people I'd never seen before would come up to me and tell me what a fantastic book it was. To which I would say, "Um, fucking duh, I haven't lost interest."

Max Brooks is the brains behind the hilarious Zombie Survival Guide, a comprehensive collection of survival strategies and how-to-use-such-and-such-weapon should you find yourself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. However, WWZ is much darker and serious in nature.

The story is told as the name says: an oral history. It's broken into three sections: the outbreak, who's to blame, and the aftermath; almost like an epistolary novel, it's told through first-accounts by the survivors, including military personnel, civilians, doctors, and a whole mess of others.

And let me tell you, no zombie movie that's ever been released has encompassed this much thought and detail, not to mention the bone-chilling reality that no country, government, or single individual is prepared for the horror of something of this magnitude. Which is essentially what the novel's underlying message is: we aren't prepared. If anything like this happened, all pretenses would be dropped and we would see exactly what humanity is: a cowardly and pissy child that refuses to take responsibility for its actions.

The characters that Brooks has created are fantastic, mostly because they're real. They're flawed, they're uncertain, and they're undeniably human. Some of the stories that these people tell will sit with you for days.

But even as the novel demonstrates how humanity really is the lowest race on the planet, it also shows how amazing we can be once we pull our heads out of our asses.

World War Z has fast become one of my favorite books of all time. If the Massachusetts Education Frameworks would allow it, I'd totally teach this book. There's a lot to be learned from it.

Either way, I give World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War 5 out of 5.

Oh, and a movie adaptation is coming out in 2010!