Miranda from Stormville
Written by Adam Bertocci
Directed by Jennifer Sandella
Presented by Random Access Theatre at IRT Theater, NYC
March 14-March 24, 2019
New Jersey has certainly been compared to worse things than a magical island. In Miranda from Stormville, Adam Bertocci's new reimagining of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, a small town in the Garden State takes the place of the isle of Sycorax, and the ship carrying Prospero's enemies back from a wedding in Tunis becomes a car bearing two friends from Indiana back from a wedding in equally-exotic-to-them Manhattan. After a mishap involving said car on a stormy August day, Will Ferdinand (Gabe Templin)—whose name combines that of the Italian prince and romantic lead in The Tempest and, presumably, of Shakespeare himself, with the additional, thematically appropriate meanings for "will" as the mental faculty involved with taking action and, from Shakespeare’s own time, as sexual desire -- and Steve Trinker (James A. Pierce III) -- named for the Bard's comic and comically drunk Stephano and Trinculo -- end up stranded in the titular Stormville, and more particularly in the basement of Pops Milano (Richard Wayne) and his daughter, Miranda (Mackenzie Menter). Pops, whom Miranda describes as in the midst of mental and physical decline, employs Ariel (Anna Cain) as a sort of home health aide and, less frequently, Calvin (Brendan Cataldo) as a mechanic. The arrival of Will and Steve will precipitate decisions with the potential to forever change Miranda’s heretofore circumscribed life, in a compassionate, funny, and invigorating production that will appeal as much to die-hard fans of the upstart crow as to those who vaguely recall reading him in high school.
When we first meet 19-year-old Miranda, she is doing her father's laundry in the jumbled basement, cluttered with books, furniture, hanging plants, and other detritus, that serves as the show's primary set. She is a self-described "weird girl" who deals with the isolation of taking care of her father in a small town that she has never left partly by reading, especially fantasy such as J.R.R. Tolkien and, more recently, she tells us, magical realism such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. Magical realism would aptly describe Miranda from Stormville itself, a play which is mostly but ambiguously realistic. Stormville, for example, may or may not exist (or both simultaneously) in its nominal location off exit 96 of the Garden State Parkway; and Ariel has some grounded moments of humanity but can also be self-consciously performative, and her doubling the parts of various townspeople of Stormville can be seen as theatrical and/or magical, to say nothing of Pops' role in all of this.
The Tempest itself is on the whole more interested in meta-theater than in nuancing the love-at-first-sight between the virtuous Miranda and at most slightly less virtuous Ferdinand, such that Prospero introduces artificial (and, given that he acts the tyrannical father, theatrical) obstacles to ensure that their union doesn’t seem too lightly achieved. Miranda from Stormville shifts the focus from the father to the daughter, and Will, Miranda, and the evolution of their relationship gain psychological and emotional depth. Miranda, while a distinct individual, can also stand in for any small-town teen dreaming of other places and other people, or any young adult on the uneasy cusp of independence. The slightly older Will argues that the “real worlds” about which parents always warn their children don't actually exist, that the reality is much messier; as he and Miranda first bond over the difficulties of having fathers with public lives and always having felt different than their peers and later quarrel over what comes next, the play addresses themes of honesty, sense of place, and need for and responsibilities towards others, as well as, in one memorable sequence, the colonial and literary heritage of the United States and the question of whether there is or might be an American Shakespeare (Ariel, at least, has a nominee). Ariel also raises the question of whether anyone needs "fixing" -- Calvin, for one, terms himself "broken" -- or merely "love," a question complicated perhaps by the inclusion of the willow song sung by both Desdemona and Emilia in Othello.
In Miranda from Stormville, references to Andrew Marvell and T.S. Eliot sit comfortably alongside references to Get Out and Ghostbusters, and the short scenes and excellent use of space make for a lively pace. The cast delivers fantastic performances, from Pierce's eager-to-leave Steve and Cataldo's quietly intense Calvin to Wayne's pleasingly hard-to-pin-down Pops. Templin does excellent work with the move into ever deeper waters from Will's initial hesitance with Miranda; Menter artfully embodies the complex tensions between Miranda's strength and trauma, her longing for and fear of the wider world and of allowing herself to trust and be vulnerable to others; and Cain is a stand-out, bringing layers as well as laughs to Ariel and her various guises. Random Access Theatre describes its mission as reclaiming and reimagining "works of the past as a way to engage in modern issues." The best adaptations mold their inspiration into something truly new, opening its own avenues of interpretation, and Bertocci's play certainly falls into that category. Will's admonition to that you have to actively go out and find the world highlights the multiple senses inherent in Ariel’s repeated reminder that there's "magic in this universe." Will also wonders if storms shouldn't be seen as opportunities for revelation, connection, and new beginnings. The only way to know for yourself is to go forth into the world and let this tempest wash over you. - Leah Richards and John Ziegler