Storm (An Appalling Mistranslation of a Roman Comedy)
Peter Oswald, directed by Charles Kondek
Walking the Dog Theater at Stageworks/Hudson, through Nov.
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.