Conjuring a Storm to Settle Old Scores
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | When somebody exits the theater humming a tune from the show they’ve just seen, you know you have a hit — but when a group spills out into the street, laughing boisterously as one of their own recites dialogue with affectionate precision? This is rock-solid confirmation that you’ve achieved that elusive goal every writer and performer aspires to: the creation of a catch phrase.
That was the precise scenario I witnessed, following the FringeNYC premiere performance of Bjorn Berkhout’s often funny but ultimately somber musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Here was a satisfied patron of “The Hurricane,” gleefully invoking a memorable line from the opening scene, in which the lead character commands an act of supernatural favor from a mysterious relic:
“Monkey paw: Draw forth a storm!”
Fire Island version of ‘The Tempest’ has ham, haiku and heart
With outstretched arms, a wave of her hands and a voice that demands unconditional obedience, Madam Sparrow — the transgender proprietor of Fire Island’s premiere gay resort — shipwrecks a group of men from her checkered past. Washed up on the shore along with debris from the corporate yacht, they’re under a 24-hour spell that makes them vulnerable to Sparrow’s elaborate scheme.
THE HURRICANE | A FringeNYC Presentation
Music, Book & Lyrics by Bjorn Berkhout
Directed by Taryn Turney
Runtime: 1hr 35 min
Aug. 16, 3:45 p.m. | Aug. 21, 4:45 p.m. | Aug. 23, 7 p.m.
At Theatre 80
80 St. Marks Place (btw. First & Second Aves.)
For tickets ($18), purchase at FringeNYC.org | By Smartphone: FringeOnTheFly.com | By credit card at the Box Office | By cash at FringeCentral (114 Norfolk St., btw. Rivington & Delancey Sts.)
But this Madam (who used to go by the name Adam) isn’t betting on monkey magic alone. Helping her secure revenge are reformed drunk and current handyman Caliban, and globe-trotting Ariel (a materialistic schemer with the requisite heart of gold, played to the hilt of flaming, scene-chewing hilarity by Bryce Henry).
Caught in the middle is (step?) daughter Miranda — a virginal adolescent whose serious hetero-sex drive has no outlet on an island full of buff gay boys (“They come to cruise,” she sings. But for her, “It’s all a ruse. No kiss. No date. No fling! I’ve come to notice, here boobs just aren’t a thing!”).
Much to Sparrow’s horror, Miranda catches the eye of handsome Ferdinand, a newly minted (straight) castaway and son of mega-rich Alonso — who, since the death of his beloved wife, has gone from Milan Corporation boardroom shark to a wounded seeker whose empty, new age platitudes might sink the company. This provides a golden opportunity for corporate climber Antonio to orchestrate a coup, with help from Alonso’s overlooked (and closeted) little brother. “Bitter and uncomfortable in his own skin” is how Sparrow pigeonholes Sebastian, describing the denial of his sexual orientation as “a terrible disease” that “warps the mind.” Sparrow could have been describing any one of the play’s characters, all of whom struggle to become their true selves.
As written by Shakespeare then nicely expanded upon by Berkhout to suit his gay fantasia premise (and his own solid moral agenda), most of the island’s inhabitants are basically decent souls laboring under some sort of false identity, unfulfilled desire or ill-advised quest. That they arrive at final act happiness in a manner having more to do with genuine humanity than monkey paw mojo is enormously satisfying.
Just as satisfying, if somewhat less memorable: the 22 songs, which range from ominously introspective to comically joyful. Although wonderfully arranged by musical director Jeremy Robin Lyons and always well-played by off-stage pianist Wiley Deweese, it’s only here that the production’s low-budget minimalism shortchanges the author’s sweeping ambitions.
A few more instruments would have given real heft to the production, which has been skillfully cast. Every one of them has the requisite comedic or dramatic chops demanded by their roles, and all are in possession of impressive pipes (especially Ryan Rhue’s Antonio). But Madam Sparrow towers over them all, and not just because of her heels. Beautifully played with coiled restraint, wounded dignity and spectacular posture by Mykel Vaughn, the haiku-spouting Sparrow will send you out of the theater with the power to overcome life’s next big obstacle with your new favorite catch phrase: “Monkey paw: Draw forth a storm!”