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Ensemble's Gamelan-style Tempest not to be missed


MIT Shakespeare Ensemble.

Directed by Kermit Dunkelberg.

La Sala de Puerto Rico.

Last weekend and this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.

By Teresa Huang
Staff Reporter

The Shakespeare Ensemble's production of The Tempest, easily the most elaborate show I've encountered at MIT, is a fantastic mix of lavish costumes, rhythmic sounds, and skilled acting. This production has been over a year in the making, and the extensive preparation pays off in this fine performance.

The most striking feature of The Tempest is the interpretation of the sights and sounds of the mysterious island on which Prospero (Rob Pensalfini G), the exiled Duke of Milan, lives with his daughter Miranda (Jennifer T. Nickel '96). Shakespeare does not specify exactly where on the globe this island is located, and the Shakespeare Ensemble uses this freedom to incorporate aspects of several different cultures and theater traditions in creating the island, giving it an extremely diverse and mystical feel.

The set is ingeniously equipped with a large circular screen, which looks like it was shipped directly from Disney World, onto which slides and character silhouettes are projected. Shadow puppetry and character masks add to the uniqueness of the production. The talented musicians of the Gamelan Galak Tika ensemble expertly provide the sounds of the island's "thousand twangling instruments" with its metal xylophones, drums, and gongs.

Monica Gomi '96 gives a stellar performance as the island spirit Ariel, who serves the sorcerer Prospero. Gomi's use of Balinese dance - coupled with an intricate costume worthy of an Academy Award in itself - gives her a tremendous stage presence, clearly showing she has studied her character thoroughly. I was particularly impressed by the choreography of her movements, which were Balinese right down to the shifting eyes and strong fingers.

Exceptional performances were also turned out by Pensalfini as Prospero and Young E. Kim '98 as the lowly, dirty slave Caliban. Try walking around while squatting for two hours and you'll appreciate Kim's performance too. His movements were very animated and energetic while all in tune with his character.

Despite its greatness, however, I can't say that I enjoyed The Tempest as much as I appreciated it. At times, the Gamelan Galak Tika drums overpowered the words of the actors as well as dampened the mood of many of Shakespeare's humorous lines. Relatively flat performances by Nickel as Miranda and Stephen P. Yang '98 as Ferdinand also left me cold. The entire production was elaborate and extensive, though I couldn't tell if it was aimed at shocking and stunning the audience rather than pleasing it.

Nevertheless, this production can be coined the "must see" show of the year at MIT. Buy your tickets now. The Tempest is an expert production which is extremely well done and just too big to be missed.