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By James Yeara

The Storm (An Appalling Mistranslation of a Roman Comedy)

By Peter Oswald, directed by Charles Kondek

Walking the Dog Theater at Stageworks/Hudson, through Nov. 19

Classical Roman playwright Platus’ works has served as the wellspring for several of Shakespeare’s plays. For example, Platus’ The Rope gives the plot for Shakespeare’s romance Pericles. The storms at sea, the shipwrecks, the prostitutes, the children long-separated from their fathers, only to be miraculously reunited, are all elements from Platus that Shakespeare uses as the spines for not only Pericles but The Comedy of Errors and, to a lesser degree, The Tempest. These elements make for some wild and fanciful modern adaptations, as with Adirondack Theatre Festival’s excellent production of The Bomb-itty of Errors this summer. Directors and casts have to give full-body contact and commitment to make the chaotic mix-up in the midst of maddening storms and heart-rending separations engagingly funny or humorously engaging.

The United States premiere of British playwright Peter Oswald’s 2005 comedy The Storm is subtitled An Appalling Mistranslation of a Roman Comedy. It’s Platus’ The Rope that Oswald “mistranslates.” The spirit of Platus isn’t mistranslated, as The Storm—with its opening-act tempest, shipwreck, prostitutes, sea-tossed seamen, and plot of a rich father looking for his long-lost daughter (and daughter-now-prostitute looking for her long-lost father); heady use of the alienation effect (characters drawing attention to the fact that they’re in a play); and frequent invocation for divine intervention—keeps enough balls in the air to be engaging.

Walking the Dog’s production of The Storm also has a couple of balls tossing about: Carole Lee Carroll’s scenic design and painting create a wonderfully colorful one-dimensional seacoast with flat blue waves flecked with white; three flat jutting boulders up center, down left, and down right; and huge flat signs pointing to the rich man Daemones’ house offstage down left and the Temple of Venus offstage up right. A rectangle of ever-changing colors on the cyclorama upstage adds some movement to the stage.

And the presentation of the seven characters in The Storm makes for a fitting thematic extension of the set. The blank faces of several presenters are a stark contrast to the three presenters who seem to burst through this neutral supineness: David Anderson’s Sceparnio handles his earnest mischief with aplomb (he even gets laughs when he appears playing with a yo-yo and states “I could never master that walking-the-dog trick”); Ashley Mayne creates a Palaestra (“exercise yard” as several presenters tell the audience) who makes prostitution look beautiful after rejecting her long-lost father’s unknowing proposition; and Laurie Portocarrero’s priestess of Venus, Ptolmocratia has the wide-eyed, eager, and earnest qualities that all who would frequently invoke the gods should possess.

The contrasting of the two styles of presenting make for a lot of juxtapositions, which could be a brilliant extension of The Storm’s theme, or just an indication that not all presenters were capable of making the full-body contact and commitment to make The Storm a real tempest of the ribald laughter and manic mayhem promised.

 


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