The question that comes to mind about "Prospero's Tempest," an amalgam of Shakespeare's play and W.H. Auden's poem about it, which is the current offering at the WPA, is: why?
The adaptation, by Chrisopher Hurt and Kim Peter Kovac, uses both sources--"The Tempest" and "The Sea and the Mirror"--to produce a version that presumably is intended to illuminate or enhance the original play. It does neither, but rather puts forth a fairly routine rendition of Shakespeare's romance and adventure on a supernatural isle.
For low-budget Shakespeare, the production is often imaginative, but dragged down by acting that is never more than competent. Director Kovac double-cast five performers in 10 roles, dressed them in utilitarian modern clothes, and set them in an austere playing area. This spareness is often effective; for example, a fierce storm is created by turning out the lights, shaking a thunder sheet and flashing some lightning. The actors pace around and through the audience with seeming informality, and the stylistic emphasis is direct and unpretentious.
But a technically bare-bones production places even more burden on the performers, and these performers are not really up to defining and sustaining one character, let alone two, for a full-length evening. Grover Gardner as Prospero has more skill and command of the language than his colleagues, but takes such a low-key tack that these advantages are not fully exploited. It is not clear, for example, if he adores his daughter Miranda or is indifferent to her, nor can one discern much distinction in his feelings for the spirit Ariel and the turbulent dark-souled Caliban.
Miranda is played by Stacy Sklaver as though she were brain-damaged rather than simply young and innocent. Deirdre Lavrakas does a proficient but pedestrian job with Ariel and Caliban. She also designed the lights, which are far more illuminating.
There is no clear vision behind this project, no innovative interpretation or style to give it a reason for being. Auden's poem is lyrical and complements the Shakespeare, but is not odd or striking enough to explain why it is there at all.
PROSPERO'S TEMPEST, adapted by Christopher Hurt and Kim Peter Kovac from William Shakespeare and "The Sea and the Mirror" by W.H. Auden, produced by The Independent Theatre Project, music by Emily A. Kane, direction and set design by Kim Peter Kovac. With Grover Gardner, Michael Henderson, Christopher Hurt, Joe Kelley, Deirdre Lavrakas, and Stacy Sklaver.
At the WPA through Saturday.