Over the weekend I saw The Tempest at the Folger. It was the first time I've ever been to the Folger Theatre, although I have wandered through the tourist area of the Folger before, and while I knew the theatre was a re-creation of an Elizabethan theatre, I was amazed at how small it was: 250 seats in all. You'd think that would mean there wasn't a bad seat in the house, but apparently a few people on the sides felt their views were obstructed by the thick supporting columns that separated the main orchestra seating from the side orchestra areas. However, our view was fine.
Of course, one difference between the Folger's stage and a real Elizabethan theater, aside from climate control, is that the Folger incorporates a sophisticated sound and light show into their productions, which in my opinion often overwhelmed the small space. I'm not a big fan of music in the theater, because I feel it's a shortcut to conjuring drama, so maybe I'm making too much of it, but seriously I felt it was intrusive.
While I'm talking about things I didn't like, I might as well talk about the way the director chose to present Ariel. He stuck the actress behind a circular translucent screen elevated above and behind the center of the stage. This severely limited my attachment to the character and my interest in her plight as an imprisoned spirit. Yes, you saw more clearly that she was imprisoned, but most people are clever enough to figure out from the dialogue and the interaction between Prospero and Ariel that the spirit is in servitude and not happy about it. No need to hit us over the head with it, especially if the tactic ends up recreating the imprisonment of the character by limiting the actor to facial expressions and singing.
The rest of the production was very very good. Prospero came across as both kind and manipulative, and his ability to turn from happiness to rage hinted at controlling and slightly unhinged possibilities; the character is so interesting because he tells us early on that he lost his worldy status as a result of a too intense love of his studies, which I like to interpret as the dangers all scholars face when they abdicate social responsibility for the realm of "pure" research. One of the more interesting changes was turning Caliban his plotters into one character: rather than encountering Trinculo and Stehano, Caliban finds a bottle that Gonzalo has left behind and gets himself drunk and creates his co-consipirators out of the bottle and his hand. It's an exhaustive role for the actor, who must now play three parts, even if all are filtered through the main role of Caliban. I have to say the cast was very solid: the King of Naples was aloof, Gonzalo was both a blowhard and a noble soul, Antonio was dapper and conniving (really the actor displayed his cold grasping and final shame extremely well in what really was a small role), Miranda was innocent without being cloying, etc.
If you want to see it, well too late. The run ended yesterday.
As for other firsts, the first night of Fort Reno is tonight at, well, Fort Reno.