Arts theater review

Shakespeare meets Star Trek

The MIT Shakespeare Ensemble produces an impressive, tech-oriented The Tempest

7844 the tempest
Peter Duerst '18 (Gonzalo) Deng-Tung Wang (Harvard) '17 (Alonso) Soma Mitra-Behura '19 (Francisco) perform in The Tempest
Karleigh Moore–The Tech

The Tempest

Performed by the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble

Directed by Raine Hasskew ’17

Written by William Shakespeare

Runs July 29 – 30 at 8 p.m., July 31 at 4 p.m., August 4 – 6 at 8 p.m.

In Kresge Little Theater

As soon as you take your seat in Kresge Little Theater, you will be struck by a sleek and futuristic set (designed by Cami Ramirez-Arau ’16 and Peter Duerst ’18) that appears straight out of old-school Star Trek. When the music starts, memories of Blade Runner might come to mind as the exciting electronic score begins (composed by Nathan Gutierrez ’17).

The MIT Shakespeare Ensemble’s rendition of The Tempest was an infusion of the Bard and Star Trek. I’m usually not the biggest Shakespeare fan but I am a sci-fi nerd, and I enjoyed the many tributes to popular science fiction franchises throughout. Even the initial “locate the exits” and “don’t use flash photography” announcements were given in a way that imitated Star Trek’s opening sequence.

When the lights dim and the actors take to the stage, the costumes (designed by Megan Goodell ’19 and Emily Ramirez ’19) stand out immediately, fitting right into the Enterprise-esque set. The makeup (designed by Elizabeth Strand ’18 and Kate Cherian ’18) on Gonzalo (Peter Duerst ’18) was incredible and I was delighted to see familiar props such as sonic screwdrivers from Doctor Who and lightsabers from Star Wars used throughout during fight scenes (Lillian McKinley ’15 and Bethany Cates ’19 were in charge of props).

“One of the great things about Shakespeare is that his words and stories are timeless. You can set the plays wherever and whenever you want, whether it be in Renaissance-era Verona, a gaming lounge in 2016, or a deserted alien planet in the 23rd century,” director Raine Hasskew ’17 said, commenting on the outer space setting.

The stage is lined with LED lights that flash different colors throughout the production. In some performances, things like lighting go unnoticed, simply a utility that allows the audience to see. In this production, anyone could see that the lighting (designed by Tuan Nguyen ’19, Bethany Cates ’19, Jake Gunter ’17, and David Ricardo ’18) added significantly to the experience creating drama, tension, and eeriness at various parts of the play.

In fact, the most impressive part of the production was how intricate it was in a technical sense.

“We used a 3-D printer to print badges for the uniforms. We built a tree out of wood, chicken wire, and newspaper. We even managed to solder circuits that allow LEDs embedded in the consoles to light up without the need for the Stage Manager to call a cue — something that is a bit foreign to the theater world, but allows for a much greater degree of flexibility and immersion,” Hasskew said.

The character Caliban and his storyline were cut out of the play in order to streamline the performance, Hasskew said. I wasn’t familiar with The Tempest before seeing the play and at times, I found the plot a little hard to follow. As far as I can tell, Caliban was an important character in the original script, so maybe the exclusion of him and his storyline made some parts of the play unclear.

There is only one female character in the original script, Miranda (Prospero’s daughter), but Hasskew wanted to stick to a gender-blind casting policy — as it turns out, the only male characters ended up being Miranda (Robert Thorpe II ’18); Alonso, the King (Deng-Tung Wang, Harvard ’17); and Gonzalo, the green alien.

“I hope that this casting decision brings to light some misogynistic elements of the original play that modern audiences who are not attuned to feminist issues might otherwise overlook,” Hasskew said.