On Saturday, Feb. 23, about two dozen students from Franciscan University of Steubenville joined Pittsburgh theater-goers in the O’Reilly Theater to watch a production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” with some modern twists that left the students discussing long afterward.
Students arrived at the Pittsburgh theater by 2 p.m. to experience this adaptation of Shakespeare’s final play and were greeted out front by an image on the marquee of Tamara Tunie, the Tony award-winning Broadway actress who played the role of Prospero in the production.
“The Tempest” featured an all-female cast, and the story took place inside of Prospero’s head. The play opened with Prospero, who was presented as an oncologist with late-stage breast cancer, in a hospital bed in Pittsburgh, and the first 5-10 minutes of the show were played out in silence, introducing all of the characters in “reality” who would later appear in the dream world of the rest of the play. When a snowstorm tempest hit, Prospero, and the audience with her, was transported into the imaginary world of her mind in which she was an exiled duchess.
The play featured an impressive set, with rock-like platforms, trap doors and a revolving section of the stage. The acting was also assisted by projections that clued the audience in to the location of the scenes and by other special effects used throughout.
While Franciscan students tended to enjoy the technical aspects of this play, the production as a whole met with mixed reviews.
“I think the show would have been more powerful without the all-female cast and gender-bending, and I’m a bit confused as to the non-specified gender of Ferdinand,” said junior Abby Preiwisch, commenting on the fact that all references in the play and in the playbill to the character Ferdinand — who was dressed like a man but played by a woman — were changed to gender-neutral descriptors.
Preiwisch did, however, enjoy the opening scene in the hospital, which provided “a precursor for the characters of the show, their unique mannerisms and their relationships with each other.”
Sophomore Patrick Frazier, who also attended the production, disagreed with Preiwisch, saying that he didn’t like the concept of Prospero as a cancer patient. Despite this, he was impressed by the special effects and the acting, saying that “aside from Ferdinand, I don’t think there was anything that made (the all-female cast) not work as a concept.”
“So, I think it was well-done; I just don’t know if I liked what they did, even though I liked how they did it,” Frazier explained.
Franciscan students attended this performance through the Fine Arts Society. The next Fine Arts Society event is “Disney in Concert,” an orchestral performance in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall, on Sunday, March 31, at 2:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.franciscan.edu/departments/fine-arts/society/.