La Tempête

Last weekend, the Byham Theater hosted La Tempête, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the performance was put on by 4D Art, a theater company based in Montreal. Sung entirely in French with English supertitles, La Tempête follows Shakespeare’s original work very closely.

The story begins with Prospero (Richard Theriault), the deposed duke of Milan and student of the occult. Prospero’s works are carried out through his servant, the spirit Ariel (Manon Brunelle). Antonio, Prospero’s duplicitous brother, exiles Ariel and Miranda (Prospero’s daughter, played by Maude Campeau) to a deserted island. Seeking revenge, Prospero summons a powerful storm, which shipwrecks his brother, along with Alfonso, the king of Naples.

Adding additional drama, La Tempête includes two attempts at murder, one aimed at Alfonso and the other at Prospero, both of which are foiled by Ariel at Prospero’s request. While pursuing revenge against his malefactors, Prospero, through Shakespearean moral instruction, winds up forgiving them instead, particularly when he sees Miranda fall in love with Ferdinand (Pierre Etienne Rouillard), Alfonso’s son. A tragicomedy, La Tempête follows the cliched story of star-crossed lovers up to its happy ending.

Visually, La Tempête is a tour de force of the avant garde. A collaboration between Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, 4D Art uses modern visual media in its presentations, resulting in a surreal appearance. Blending digital technology with live performances, La Tempête has some prerecorded actors who appear only on screen (read: two-thirds of the cast never sets foot on stage). Through the use of holograms, characters seem to appear and disappear into thin air. For example, Prospero turns his back on the audience and disappears the moment a spirit is projected on his back.

The Byham Theater stage was cleverly arranged. From afar, the set looked like a rocky shore, though it was actually made of piles of oversized books (in the story, Prospero’s knowledge of magic came from his prodigious library). The acoustics setup, however, did not suit La Tempête; the setup lacked the ethereal quality that the visual aspects provided. La Tempête runs one-and-a-half hours without intermission, which makes it a lot to take in at once.

Theriault’s performance stood out due to his overwhelming stage presence. His voice soared throughout La Tempête, but did not change with the story line. Playing a proud and initially vindictive Prospero, Theriault failed to adequately capture the turn to reconciliation.

Brunelle has perhaps the hardest role. In addition to Ariel, she played Caliban, a malicious hunchback who interacts physically with two projected actors, Trinculo (Robert Toupin) and Sebastien (Patrice Robitaille); she is supposed to be kicked around by them. It is one thing to wrestle with a giant cockroach, á la Men in Black, in front of a green screen, but quite another to choreograph it in a live performance.

A story of redemption and forgiveness, The Tempest serves as an excellent choice for 4D Art’s visual style. The play (4D Art’s first foray into Shakespeare) features many scenes of fantasy and dreamscapes in a reverie of sleep. La Tempête captures these perfectly, and 4D Art’s abilities would serve ideally for MacBeth’s apparitions or Hamlet’s ghosts.