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.


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