Shakespeare imagined many famous families but the odd foursome bound to its lonely island in “The Tempest” is not one of them. Between Ariel and Caliban, Miranda and Prospero, there are no few barriers to love or even friendship, beginning with the master-slave dynamic which colors their relations and which has come to define them in readings of the text over the last 50 years.
Family is nevertheless the point of departure for director Irina Brook’s adaptation of the play, the product of a summer’s worth of communal living in Burgundy with a close-knit group of actors and friends. In Brook’s “Tempête!”, which recasts Neapolitan power struggles among its ruling classes as an Italian family feud over a lucrative pizzeria, the kitchen, that quintessentially familial space, is the focus of the action, where meals are made, tempers flare and marriages announced, with cozze alla marinara on the table and “Funiculì, Funiculà” on the radio. Shakespeare’s deserted isola was never so charming, nor so wacky.
“Tempête!”‘s exclamation mark is justified by these and other liberties which respect the basic structure of the original while developing character with unabashed comic strokes. Ariel (Scott Koehler) is a spritely waiter whose toes barely touch the ground as he does his master’s bidding or lends his talents to incongruous fashion makeovers on an adolescent Miranda (Ysmahane Yaquini). Caliban (Hovnatan Avedikian) is the family dog turned savage by neglect but who is far from stupid and who only pretends to respect the leash binding him to his bed under the kitchen table. Prospero (Renato Koehler) is a blustering, wand-wielding, magic maestro in red satin and patent leather.
From their haphazard beachfront kitchen, they stir up as much sand on their headlong pursuit of Alonso and his shipmates as they do pasta on the camp stove. The enthusiasm of the five-strong troupe (who double roles) crescendoes as Prospero shows off his legerdemain, Ariel replays an entire scene in reverse, Caliban goes mad on grappa and Ferdinand (Bartlomiej Soroczynski) juggles almost anything he can find in a needless attempt to seduce the love-struck Miranda.
Amidst all the gags and tricks, some injustice is suffered by Shakespeare’s powerful text, whose complexities have given much work to academics and audiences, but which are glossed over here between the modern idiom and the comedic approach. As family dramas go, however, this farcical battle between pizza kings lives many happy moments and as “The Tempest”, offers a light-hearted story of personal ambition and paternal love.
To June 19, Wed-Fri, 8:30 pm, Sat, 3:30 & 8:30 pm, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, 37 bis, boulevard de la Chapelle, 10e, Mº La Chapelle, 12-26 euros, tel: 01.46.07.34.50.
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