CTC’s adaption of ‘The Tempest’ re-imagines Shakespeare, rounds out 2014 season

Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Oge Agulue (Stephano), Marianne Rendon (Trinculo), and Christian DeMarais (Caliban) perform a scene from Chautauqua Theater Company’s The Tempest, which runs through Friday in Bratton Theater.

This week, Chautauquans again have the chance to worship at the altar of William Shakespeare.

“I have a teacher who says Shakespeare is church, and I think, in particular, this play is,” said Kate Abbruzzese, who plays Miranda in Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of The Tempest. The play runs through Friday in Bratton Theater.

Pagan rituals aside, Shakespeare is often framed as the most talented playwright in history. Adaptations of his work range from teen movies to TV shows to fiction book spin-offs. Every season, CTC stages its own adaptation of a Shakespearean work, which can mean a classical production or one set in a circus, like last year’s The Comedy of Errors.

“Shakespeare’s plays are incredibly resilient,” said CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch.

Because Shakespeare’s language is dense and poetic, Benesch said it allows creative overlays and interpretations.

“I feel like it’s really true of any great playwright that your clues as an actor are all in the text,” she said. “With Shakespeare, it’s all there to unmine.”

This year, CTC’s production of The Tempest does not utilize a concept, but instead stays true to the Elizabethan language and time period written by the Bard. Director Jade King Carroll said she generally steers clear of concepts and chooses to look at Shakespeare, similar to others she directs, as a poetic playwright rather than a worshipped historical figure.

“I’m attracted to playwrights that have a heightened sense of language,” she said. “Every play has a different language. Every playwright has a different language and a different poetry. This is just the language of these people as it would be.”

CTC leadership said incorporating Shakespeare into the season is an important part of their self-categorization as a full-service theater company, rounding out a season fueled by theater mainstays and world premieres.

“We don’t just do summerfair, we don’t just do the classics, we don’t just do new work. If you look at the breadth of our season, we’d be missing something if we weren’t doing Shakespeare,” said CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy. “It’s important to have Shakespeare represented at Chautauqua, in a place that’s about lifelong learning.”

Benesch agreed that Shakespeare is a crucial aspect to the company’s repertoire and a tool for the acting conservatory, as it has been since she started as artistic director for the company 10 years ago.

“He’s the best teacher there is, still,” Benesch said. “I am of the mind that if you learn to do Shakespeare well as an actor — you can do anything.”

Whether based on a concept or presented as a literal period piece, if watching Shakespeare is like church, Abbruzzese said she hopes Chautauquans will participate in services as The Tempest continues its run through the week.

“Shakespeare demands something of the audience,” Abbruzzese said. “There is no fourth wall and that’s my favorite part about him as a playwright and I hope that we will hold the audience accountable for their imagination and their responsibility for bringing this story to life.”