The Tempest

The Tempest
by Shakespeare
adapted and directed by Taesuk Oh
produced by Mokwha Repertory Company
presented by La MaMa

Mokwha Repertory Theater is a Korean company founded by Taesuk Oh that combines the techniques of traditional Korean theater with contemporary Western theater. They recently presented an adaptation of The Tempest at LaMaMa directed by Oh. It's a fascinating production with a novel approach and terrific techniques.

It's best to forget about the Shakespearean text when watching this production and to enjoy it as a fable. It's much abridged, brief at 90 minutes. The three plot lines are there, but only the Ferdinand-Miranda story has a focus.

The text is more a riff on Shakespeare than a translation. The King of Naples becomes The Dragon King (and magic comes from his fan). The lines allude to Confucius and "the Buddhist saints" - and use the word "like" (as in "I mean").

The play is presented in Korean with English surtitles. The stage is bare and low-tech throughout. Actors face front. The acting is very heavily influenced by traditional Korean movement. The gorgeous costumes - mostly white - are traditional, as are the commanding drums on stage and off.

The modern elements are inspired. Ferdinand and Miranda are married by a black ram. A pillow is born on stage and is later buried in lieu of Ferdinand when the shipwrecked party can't find him. The actors (there are a total of 18 in the show) indicate woods from time to time by holding reeds in a lovely minimalism. They spend some time wearing duck heads. There are a few rams, and lobster and octopus props.

Caliban on this island has two heads (and they don't get along). Oh has placed a short actress in front of a taller actor and lets us see only their heads. They're costumed to look like one creature. At the end of the play they're set free from one another - delightfully - with the same two-person saw that Ferdinand and Miranda have used to cut wood.

In short, it's a lively fantasy. Hearing the Korean gives Shakespeare a marvelous exoticism. The imaginative staging make us see the play as a folk tale.

This Tempest is delicious, a marvelous, refreshing show. Let's hope that the Mokwha Repertory Company comes back to New York soon.

Steve Capra
November 2014

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