BY MARY HOULIHAN |FOR THE SUN-TIMES
“The Tempest,” the magical drama widely acknowledged as Shakespeare’s last complete play, has inspired many wondrous and varied adaptations: Julie Taymor brought her bold, eye-popping interpretation to the big screen; Steppenwolf’s Tina Landau reimagined it for the stage in an illuminating and breathtaking staging; Chicago Shakespeare Theater teamed with Redmoon Theater for a piece (“The Feast: An Intimate Tempest”) full of magic and imagination.
When: To June 28
Where: Walkabout Theater at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western
Now it’s British director Anna-Helena McLean’s turn. In a partnership with Walkabout Theatre, the Chicago company known for site specific and experimental theater, she and members of her company Moon Fool will stage “Storm,” a piece she has been developing for nearly eight years. The cast of international and Chicago performers weave together original live music, singing, theater, acrobatics and movement to capture McLean’s futuristic vision which actually first came to her in a dream.
McLean espouses a kind of physical theater training in which the imagination of the play comes alive through physicality, voice and music. She often works with classical plays — mostly Shakespeare and the ancient Greek dramas. McLean studied for seven years with the Polish experimental physical theater company Gardzienice before coming back to England and going through what she calls “a dark patch” as she tried to fit back into society after living in a isolated rural place for so long. That’s when she became paranoid about climate change and the dreams started.
“I began having wild dreams about climate change and my ambitions as an artist tying in with climate change,” McLean recalls. “In the dream I saw a little girl basically conducting the elements, a huge storm, using a kind of magical art and I knew I had to make a piece of theater about it.”
After years of research and development, the dream began to speak to her in concrete terms and McLean built a vocabulary of movement, gestures and themes drawn from “The Tempest” while also weaving into the piece proposals from actors and climate research by scientists.
Walkabout co-artistic director Thom Pasculli says McLean brings an “incredibly vibrant physicality and musicality into the room” and while the two company’s brands of physical theater are similar the “joining together and getting to know each other period has been exciting and heightened in a short amount of time.”
“Storm” features actors from Walkabout and Moon Fool in four principal roles — Prospero (Pasculli), his daughter Miranda (Dana Murphy), his assistant Caliban (McCambridge DowdWhipple) and the spirit Ariel (Anirudh Nair) — surrounded by a chorus. It is set in the not-to-distant future in a remote island bunker sheltered from the chaos of the outside world where a giant storm is seething and exiled geo-engineer Prospero works to control the elements in hopes of achieving a new era of sustainability while also dealing with his daughter’s coming-of-age.
It’s Shakespeare’s classic examination of power, illusion and control told new while also “retaining at its core the father-daughter relationship,” says Walkabout co-artistic director Kendra Miller who along with Pasculli had worked with McLean before they came to helm Walkabout in 2013.
Miller compares working on “Storm” to working on a large-scale musical. There are so many people involved and so much in terms of score and movement that she admits that as all the pieces come together it does feel daunting. The title is apt as this is a storm of ideas merging into one.
“But at the same time we are excited to be in the center of this experiment which is what collaborative exchange is all about,” Miller says. “It’s a seething, swirling sort of energy that is very exciting to watch come alive.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.