Sunday, July 14, 2013

THE TEMPEST in Battery Park: a must-see performance

Last week, I attended the New York Classical Theatre's production of Shakespeare's The Tempest in Battery Park.  The production began at 7:00 in the structure known as Castle Clinton--a most fitting venue for this play that deals with shipwrecked visitors to a new island.  Castle Clinton, originally called the West Battery and built between 1808-1811 as a fort to protect Manhattan (by the same architect who designed Gracie Mansion and our City Hall), would abandon its defensive role in 1821 to serve as a place of public entertainment.

Only the first and the final scene take place inside the open-air space of Castle Clinton. For the rest of the play, actors and audience are peripatetic. Instead of set changes, various places in Battery Park serve as the new set, and the audience moves along to create what Stephen Burdman, the artistic director, calls "panoramic theatre."  It's a wonderful experience; the acting is first class; and its a perfect way to introduce children to adult theatre.

Although Stephen Burdman asks the audience not to make any recordings or photographs, I did take some stealth photos with my small, pocket camera. But I shot blind, from the hip, so as not to disturb anyone in the audience and yet managed to get several photographs well-enough focused to provide the following images of the performance.

Manhattan, Battery Park, Castle Clinton, The Audience Gathers for New York Classical Theatre's The Tempest

As we gather in Castle Clinton, our backs to the west and the Hudson River, the lowering sun lights up the buildings of lower Manhattan.  Rising like a jewel in this setting is that square tower in the center with a pyramidal cap--the Standard Oil Building (1921-28)--designed by Thomas Hastings, one of the architects of the earlier New York Public Library.

Manhattan, Battery Park, Ariel and the Sleeping Alonso, New York Classical Theatre's The Tempest

The plot thickens, as Sebastian and Antonio discuss killing the magically-drugged Alonso and Gonzalo (asleep on another bench just to the right).  This Ariel (one of three, as you will soon see) is played by Kelly Gibson; Alonso is played by Clay Storseth.

Manhattan, Battery Park, Miranda and Ferdinand, New York Classical Theatre's The Tempest

Here Miranda, played by Hannah Kahn, realizes that the handsome castaway, Ferdinand (son of Alonso, the King of Naples), is as much in love with her as she with him. Ferdinand is played by Daniel Patrick Smith. Hidden behind the tree and watching the events that he has set into motion is Prospero.

Manhattan, Battery Park, Caliban, New York Classical Theatre's The Tempest

Caliban, wonderfully played by Brendan McMahon, hugs a tree as he anticipates getting the island back for himself through his plot with the drunken, castaway servants, Stephano and Trinculo.

Manhattan, Battery Park, Ariel, New York Classical Theatre's The Tempest

Here are the three Ariels, waiting for the right moment to haunt Caliban and his scheming partners.  They are Rin Allen, Kelly Gibson, and Molly Densmore.

Manhattan, Battery Park, Prospero, New York Classical Theatre's The Tempest

The scene has now moved to that part of the Battery that features the East Coast War Memorial, which includes four nineteen foot high pylons inscribed with the names of those who lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean during WWII.  Note the Statue of Liberty in the far distance.

Here, Prospero, played by John Michalski, uses a pylon as center stage right, remaining hidden but watching the events just prior to the betrothal masque with Miranda and Ferdinand. This would be part of Act IV in a normal production.

Manhattan, Battery Park, Sunset over New Jersey and the Hudson

As we walk back to Castle Clinton for Act V and the Epilogue, we are treated to this wonderful sunset and the silhouettes of some of the buildings of Jersey City.

Manhattan, Battery Park, Castle Clinton, The Audience Gathers for Act V, for New York Classical Theatre's The Tempest

Manhattan, Battery Park, Castle Clinton, Alonso looks on as Prospero welcomes Gonzalo, New York Classical Theatre's The Tempest

New York Classical Theatre will continue performances of Shakespeare's The Tempest July 16-21, 23-28, and July 30-August 4.  All performances begin at 7:00 pm.

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