Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 11:56 a.m., Monday, January 28, 2008

Balinese pupperty meets Bard in 'Tempest' production

Special to The Advertiser



    8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday

    Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

    $16 general, $14 UH faculty/staff, seniors and military, $11 students, $5 UH students



    Also: Pre-curtain chats will precede the Saturday and Sunday performances


    Special to The Advertiser

    Presenting Shakespeare's "The Tempest" as a shadow play does a couple of interesting things. It throws attention back on the language and invites reexamination of the work through a medium unfamiliar to Western audiences.

    "The Tempest" may have been Shakespeare's last play and many scholars believe that when the central character of Prospero gives up his magic powers, he speaks lines that represent the playwright's farewell to the stage.

    "Now my charms are all o'erthrown,

    And what strength I have's mine own"

    But the play also contains most of the complex elements associated with his better works: rich language and imagery, real and imagined monsters, invisible sprites, base comic characters, and a spectacular shipwreck.

    It also fits the Balinese tradition of presenting morality plays illustrated by shadow puppets, since "The Tempest" is soundly based on issues of duty, personal rights, and the consequences of base wrongdoing.

    The cross-cultural mixture now at the University of Hawai'i combines live dancers, puppetry, traditional Balinese gamelan music, and projected images on a large screen. It uses an abbreviated version of the text that runs under 90 minutes without intermission and that offers the basic action of the play without dwelling on its complexities.

    The unusual juxtaposition results from a collaboration by Larry Reed, who has developed a unique shadow casting style, composer and musical director I Nyuoman Sumandhi, production director Kirstin Pauka, and a cast of university students who have spent months in training and preparation.

    What is does best is to free the live stage from its physical limitations. It shows us a ship being tossed on the waves and several grotesque monsters. It shows us Prospero's servant Ariel as a monkey figure floating on a cloud, and it changes scenes with the click of a lens.

    But conventions of shadow puppet theater work less well at presenting character, restricted as they are to expressionless two-dimensional cutouts of faces with unmoving lips and eyes. This simplifies storytelling, but abandons the rich shadings and expression that the human face can bring to a character.

    For instance, there is no question about Caliban in this production — he is a gross half-monster, half-man. We feel no pity for him, and assume all his mistreatment has been deserved. Since that is only part of the character, much of his richness is lost.

    Consequently, a great deal of importance shifts to the spoken word and, in this, the cast speaks Shakespeare's lines admirably. Ian Falconer is articulate and precise as Prospero, Michelle Hurtubise and Thomas Smith pack the dialogue between Miranda and Ferdinand with fresh emotion, and Devika Wasson is a sprightly Ariel.

    James Shirmer and Rhiannon McCullough get laughs as the drunken sailors and Alan Shepard's Caliban is a gravel-voiced whiner.

    The abridged script cuts to the chase, sets things right, and ends the evening quickly, before the limitations of shadow puppet theater begin to outweigh their ability to entertain.

    Joseph T. Rozmiarek has reviewed theater performances in Hawai'i since 1973.