But the real standout of this production is Sergio Campa as Caliban, the debased slave who desperately schemes to recover his island from Prospero. Smeared in filth, his stocky body covered only by a grass skirt, his tongue writhing like a restless eel, this Caliban is a wretched creature, driven by his desires yet thwarted by a lack of good sense. To this Campa adds a feel for the tragic, poetic aspects of the role, which could have been overlooked in all the comic horseplay. Caliban is dismissed by the civilized characters as a "monster," but Shakespeare gives him a superior intellect and some of the loveliest lines in the play:
"Be not afeared. The Isle is full of noises,
The Sol Theatre Project injects The Tempest with charm and whimsy
By William Shakespeare. Through October 14; 954-525-6555.
The Sol Theatre Project, 1140 NE Flagler Dr, Fort Lauderdale
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop on me, that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again."
Like other Shakespearean outsiders -- Shylock, Othello, Malvolio -- Caliban is flawed but unfairly wronged. His very presence in the play is an unsettling reminder of the evil and the folly that men do to one another. Campa doesn't try to homogenize Caliban. This actor is willing to blast into broad comedy and then swerve suddenly into poignancy.
But the production is hampered by some annoying aspects: The use of masks and pantomime seems rather trite. The shipwreck scene that opens the play is so full of shouting and sound effects that most of the dialogue is unintelligible. And only a few actors in the cast appear to realize that effective acting relies at least as much on listening as it does on declaiming. These flaws can be excused as the minor failings of a young company, but other choices seem decidedly ill advised, notably playing the outcome in advance. One of the delicious aspects of Shakespeare is that all the plays could turn out differently -- they are too full of both merriment and mayhem to be predictable. But Hooker makes the mistake of telegraphing the happy ending: Little is at risk here, little that might disturb or challenge the audience.
Another ill-advised choice is to portray the low comic Trinculo as a cartoon Arab (or perhaps it's a cartoon East Indian -- Kaminsky's cornball accent isn't specific). With curled Arabian Nights-style slippers, a turbanlike headdress, dark swarthy makeup, and a black curly wig, this Trinculo is the equivalent of a Sambo blackface. In the aftermath of the recent terrorist crisis and racist backlash, this imposition seems in poor taste. It also undermines the text. Caliban clearly is meant to be the sole outsider. Displaced by force, mistaking the foolish drunkard for a god, Caliban is then degraded by the drunkard's alcohol. Such was the fate of many "natives" in Shakespeare's day, a hundred years into the colonization of the Americas. To toss in another "native" -- and a cartoon one at that -- sacrifices clarity and dimension for a few laughs.
Laughter and amusement are important ways to please an audience. But they are not the only ways, and need not be to the exclusion of deeper, more profound pleasures. Sol's bright, sunny Tempestwill charm some playgoers but it will not move or challenge them. And if this new company really wants to fulfill its promise, it should strive to do all three.