How it’s New York: Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse is one of the hippest places in the city; it’s known
especially as an importer of acclaimed and innovative work from overseas. The new building has the most comfortable lobby in town, with chaise loungeand often live music in the bar.
How it’s (Irish) English: The show is the third in the trilogy of Shakespeare plays performed by women, with the conceit that they are all inmates in a prison, and hails from England’s Donmar Warehouse.
Of all Shakespeare plays to set in a prison cell, “The Tempest” makes the most sense. Prospero, a sorcerer and the rightful Duke of Milan, is living on an island from which he cannot escape, after having been usurped by his own brother Antonio. He seizes a chance to cause a shipwreck when Antonio and King Alonso of Naples, complicit in the crime, are nearby, and restore himself and his daughter Miranda to their rightful places. Most prisoners can only depend on clemency.
“The Tempest” at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the third in a trilogy from the Donmar Warehouse in London, all directed by Phyllida Lloyd, all featuring actor Harriet Walter, and casts of women performing a play within a play. “Julius Caesar” and “Henry IV” were presented earlier this season.
“The Tempest” is fiercely successful, asking the audience when and how does the punishment fit the crime. In each production, an actor frames the play by introducing the modern-day inmate telling the story. In “The Tempest,” Walter shows that Prospero’s interpretation is based on the story of Judith Clark, a 67-year-old woman serving 75-to-life in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. Clark drove the getaway car in 1981 for a bank robbery that resulted in the deaths of two
police officers. (Andrew Cuomo has commuted Clark’s sentence this past December, according to press notes, and she will be granted a parole hearing this year).
It’s impossible not to hear her story at the top of the show and ask what justice means- and that was the point of the choice. One of the play’s most indelible moments comes at the end, as prisoners leave, calling “Bye, Hannah!” while Walter sits alone in her cell.
But thematic sincerity doesn’t always make for great theater, and this is great theater. It has everything– terrific performances, surprise, spectacle, insight. If you can nab a ticket (It’s sold out, performances through Feb. 19), even if you’ve seen “The Tempest” before, you need to go.
You’ve never seen it done like this.