A multimedia production of The Tempest should be “something rich and strange,” as Ariel might say. But the Montreal-based 4D Art’s La Tempête is surprisingly poor and ordinary. How could 4D’s high-tech video designs, so well suited to realizing the sorcery of Shakespeare’s most magical play, lead to something so 2-D?
Part of the problem is execution. The dim lighting apparently necessitated by the projections leaves the human cast in the dark, making all the low-tech verse speaking (performed in French) difficult to focus on. But the central concept behind the design is flawed as well, since it wastes the technology on documenting the activities of Prospero’s shipwrecked enemies—played onscreen in prerecorded performances—while Ariel, the play’s bona fide spirit, appears as a sullen and raggedy live actress. (She also doubles, in different rags, as Caliban). The intended effect is to ground Prospero and his gang in reality and render his visitors as inner demons. But outside of a few neat “morphing” effects, there is too little interaction between live and virtual elements. The gadgetry does little to convey Prospero’s “rough magic,” resulting in a conventional Tempest downstage with snippets of some other televised version behind it.