Review: ‘The Tempest’, all female, mostly naked.

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

‘The Tempest’ by Torn Out Theater is not your ordinary “Shakespeare in the open air” production. Like some of the similar projects around the city, from Public’s Shakespeare in Central Park to Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, the Torn Out Theater’s shows are free (donations are accepted in the end) and take place outside. What sets them apart from everybody else is the fact that the all-female cast performs nude. Well, to be specific, the islanders – humans and spirits are fully nude or painted with the body paint. The arrived royals are fully dressed in the beginning; some of them end up fully nude in the end.     

Set on a remote Island, ‘The Tempest’ tells the story of the magician Prospero and his young, beautiful daughter Miranda. Twelve years ago, Antonio, Prospero’s’ brother, exiled his sibling from Naples. Supplied by some food and books by his counselor Gonsalo, Prospero was preparing for revenge. When the ship with Antonio, his friend Alonso, and Alonso’s brother and son (Sebastian and Ferdinand, respectively) sails nearby, Prospero raises a tempest, which brings everybody ashore. Ferdinand gets separated from the rest of the men. He falls in love with Miranda, who hasn’t seen other men in her life. The spirit Ariel, who serves Prospero, messes with the stranded while they wander in the woods. 
The comedic drunk duo, Stephano and Trinculo, and the monstrous Caliban aren’t in this shortened version of the play. The play features eight actresses, three dancers and two musicians. It was first produced last May in Central Park and had its second run in the beginning of September in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The audience was seated inside the Music Pagoda with the action unfolding in the clearing beneath. Four massive tree trunks, growing in the corners like a symmetrical trapeze, were cleverly used as set design with spirits hiding behind them. 

The vast park landscape behind the “stage” is utilized as well. A few minutes before the show starts, the audience can spot Miranda (Elisabeth Gilbert) collecting wood with Amazon-like strength. This graceful and unobtrusive introduction to the nude production of ‘The Tempest’, as well as the pastoral scene of three spirits running in the woods in the distance lit by the golden hour sun, sets the harmonious tone of the unity of person and nature. Establishing a non-sexualized and non-violent image of the naked body is the company’s goal. The directors, Pitr Strait and Alice Mottola, deserve praise for both concept and execution. 

Soon enough, the nudity of Prospero (Gina Marie Russell) and Miranda starts to be perceived for their costumes. Small realistic details helped to create separation between nudity and sexuality: Miranda is covered in dust and mud, like a child who was playing outside all day, and Prospero has tattoos of occult symbols all over her body. The body paint from head to toe (by Ish Paralta) on the spirits makes them creatures from a different reality where any standards of human sexuality don’t apply. I whish the group choreography was thought through better because otherwise they are one step from a hippy musical festival crowd. That needs to be distinguished from the movement of Ariel (Reanna Roane), who practically danced the Shakespearian lines, enriching the words with inhumanly beautiful body language.  

The costumes by Enee Olsen were eye catching, stylish and ridiculous. Layered skirts and multiple accessories on the aristocrats, paired with high tight buns and strong make up, make fun of the very idea of clothing. This mad interpretation of Renaissance costumes comments on how foolish clothing etiquette is, and how the standards of beauty and fashion strangle the body and the mind.