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News / Life / Clark County Life

Farewell to Will

The Bard’s final play, ‘The Tempest,’ defies easy categories

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 5, 2016, 6:03am
4 Photos
Kerry Leek plays the enslaved monster Caliban in &quot;The Tempest.&quot; (Photo by Kathleen Kelly)
Kerry Leek plays the enslaved monster Caliban in "The Tempest." (Photo by Kathleen Kelly) Photo Gallery

William Shakespeare’s most masterfully magical play — and the one that’s considered his fond farewell to the stage — will get the quick-and-dirty treatment Saturday afternoon in Esther Short Park.

After “The Tempest” has subsided, you can ponder its pleasures and puzzles over a free pint at nearby Feral Public House, which sponsored the free performance.

The theatrical menu contained just three basic flavors as Shakespeare’s career peaked in the early 1600s: comedy, tragedy and history. But “The Tempest” rises above tidy categories to display the mature wisdom of a poet at peace.

All of the ingredients of furious tragedy are there at the start. A vengeful magician and his lonely daughter have been stranded on an island for 12 years, when the bad guys who stuck them there happen to sail near. The magician, Prospero, whips up a storm to shipwreck and capture his enemies. Meanwhile, Prospero’s magical slaves are desperate to win their freedom, whether through obedience or rebellion.

If You Go

  • What: Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” presented by the Original Practice Shakespeare Company. Free pint with chip from show after at sponsor Feral Public House, 1109 Washington St. Vancouver.
  • Where: Esther Short Park, Columbia and West Eighth streets, Vancouver.
  • When: 2 p.m. Saturday.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Information: www.opsfest.org

All of this could add up to one ugly tale of violent retribution and power struggles. Instead, “The Tempest” traces many fantastical and hilarious adventures featuring transformations, love spells, conspiracies, tall tales and drunken revels. No one dies, and there’s even a wedding in the offing as the curtain falls. Prospero forgives his enemies, acknowledges his own flaws and renounces magic altogether; his pursuit of revenge gives way to compassion and acceptance.

One popular interpretation of “The Tempest,” which appeared in 1611 and is considered the last of 37 plays that Shakespeare penned by himself, is that Prospero speaks for an aging bard who’s taking his final curtain call — and who seems cool with that:

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and

Are melted into air, into thin air:

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”

Did you catch the nod to the “great globe,” perhaps the playwright’s sly farewell to his own Globe Theater in London, where most of his works premiered?

Dangerous, feral

“The Tempest” is the total opposite of another Shakespearean tale of settling scores and growing older: Poor “King Lear,” betrayed and insane, raging against the storm on the moors and the storm inside his head.

“About one-third of the play is about some silly clowns. It’s really funny,” said Brian Allard, founder and artistic director of the Original Practice Shakespeare Company, which will roll out “The Tempest” — literally, on scrolls — at 2 p.m. Saturday in the southwest corner of Esther Short Park, near the Slocum House.

As its name states, the Original Practice Shakespeare Company is a throwback to the rough-and-tumble way drama was delivered in Shakespeare’s time. Theaters used to attract the masses by changing their offerings daily. That gave busy actors little time to rehearse, so they carried little script-scrolls onstage, reading their lines as they went. Each actor’s scroll contained only their own part, plus necessary cues; no one had the entire text of the play.

That wasn’t just a practical matter at a time before both copy machines and copyright laws; it also prevented the work getting stolen and staged by a rival theater troupe.

That’s how the Original Practice Shakespeare Company performs: minimal rehearsal, glancing at scrolls — and, when inevitably getting lost, looking to a prompter for help getting found again. It’s not quite improvisation, but it’s “improv-ish,” the company motto goes, “because Shakespeare should be a little dangerous.”

Did You Know?

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, coined thousands of English words and phrases that are commonplace today. The following first appeared in “The Tempest” (1611):

  • Full fathom five.
  • Watchdog.
  • Sea change.
  • What’s past is prologue.
  • In a pickle.
  • Thin air.
  • Brave new world.
  • Strange bedfellows.

No place is more dangerous than Esther Short Park for staging Shakespeare — or anything worth hearing clearly — thanks to all of the trains and airplanes that regularly rumble and roar by. But this troupe is ready for that. When reality gets in the way, the prompter blows a whistle and calls a timeout, and the actors play for time by breaking into jokes or songs, or forming a human choo-choo train, or flapping their arms and flying around the audience.

Audience participation — booing the villain, cheering the hero, swooning at the kissing couple — is always encouraged at this style of Shakespeare performance. If you sit down front, don’t be surprised when an actor targets you with a serious monologue — or outrageous flirting.

After Prospero finds peace, consider finding some of your own over a free brew at Feral Public House, just a few blocks northeast of the park, at 1109 Washington St. Chips will be distributed at the show that entitle you to a pint (or other beverage) at Feral, which paid the city park fee so the Original Practice Shakespeare Company could bring the bard back to downtown Vancouver — dangerous and free.