'Tempest' howls noisily

THEATER REVIEW

July 04, 1991|By Mike Giuliano

Theater director Sam McCready has never been one to play by the book in his productions at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, so imagine what he does when the book in question is Prospero's volume of necromancy in "The Tempest."

Whatever you're imagining at this moment, though, probably falls short of what Mr. McCready has done for better -- and mostly for worse -- with his rock musical version, "The Tempest: A Rock Odyssey," in which the Elizabethan age meets the space age. There certainly are no lutes to be heard here, what with keyboard wails and thumping drumming to rival any tempest.

As this summer's offering in UMBC's Shakespeare on Wheels touring theater program, this "Tempest" is loud enough to assert itself on any field in the state. In fact, you may feel the need to hold on to your vibrating lawn chair -- that is, if your hands aren't already covering your ears.

So many interpretive liberties have been taken with Shakespeare in our era that it seems hopelessly old fashioned to complain that not every audacious staging adds to our insights and enjoyment.

But there's no getting around the fact that this "Tempest" is a noisy misfire. At its most clangorous, Mr. McCready's version runs roughshod over the play's magic and its poetry. Although the musical score by Stephen and Carl Freundel somehow manages to wrap tunes around many of the speeches -- no small achievement -- it's often so raucous that Shakespeare's lines aren't illuminated, they're made unintelligible. And because the actors have the habit of shouting into their microphones anyway, well, brace yourself for Shakespeare on Squeals.

For his unusual take on the play, Mr. McCready has transformed the Shakespeare on Wheels' flatbed truck into a shiny metallic platform where Flash Gordon would feel at home. True to its priorities, the production design places the rock band at the top of the set by way of plugging the pastoral into an amp. Here on this "island," Prospero (played by Mr. McCready) has taken refuge from those who stole his kingdom. Dressed in white body suits with gray padding, he and his retainers look like futuristic fencers.

As if the chord and coastline changes weren't enough, this production has, to no particular purpose, changed the gender of those with whom Prospero is feuding: King Alonso is Queen Alonza, Antonio is Antonia, Sebastian is Sebastienne, and Gonzalo, Gonzala. The actresses in these parts wear riotously colorful variations on Elizabethan dresses that at least prove an eye-catching contrast to the sci-fi island garb of Prospero, Ariel and Caliban.

"The Tempest: A Rock Odyssey," which tours the region into September, has its next performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Howard Community College. For information on the Columbia appearances, call 381-0520.

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