Sycorax, Cyber Queen of Qamara
Sandra Bargman is terrific as the title character of this ambitious fantasia about the unseen witch from “The Tempest” given an underwhelming production.
Ms. Bargman is so hilarious, sly, and overly dramatic though achieving a fully realized characterization that one wishes this was a solo show showcasing her commanding talents. Unfortunately, it’s a problematic play given an ineffective production.
Ms. Gael’s loopy conceit is that Sycorax is in the present setting the record straight and reenacting her past through the use of avatars representing her younger self and other integral characters that she manipulates with a hand- held remote control. There are cranky references to Wikipedia and the Internet.
In 16th century Muslim Algiers, the young Sycorax is married off to an old man by her parents. Since his constant desire for intercourse doesn’t lead to childbirth it is arranged that each of his six sons will have sex with her on successive nights, so she won’t be dreadfully believed to be barren. She becomes pregnant and then a tribunal exiles her due to her propensity for witchcraft that involves summoning plague-ridden rats. After arriving on a far-off island, she gives birth to Caliban, creates the sprightly Ariel and conjures up a menagerie of helpful animals. There are sexual shenanigans between her, Ariel and Caliban in varying combinations. Prospero and his daughter Miranda arrive after a shipwreck and clashes occur.
Director Joan Kane isn’t able to successfully translate Gael’s fanciful and ambitious scenario to the stage. The off-kilter gee whiz tone is more appropriate for a children’s theater matinee rather than a sensual epic. Ms. Kane’s blocking on the contained space is relatively effective but the pacing becomes sluggish. Most egregious is that Bargman often sits off to the side on a swivel chair at a desk adorned with crows, commenting and narrating. A cylindrical curtain is in the way obscuring her and if one is sitting in front of it, one must crane back and forth to see her.
G. Warren Stiles scenic design is chiefly autumnal felt-looking curtains suggesting the shape of minarets that get pulled to suggest differing locations, as well as some hanging vintage lanterns. The rats are cool. Kathryn Lieber’s projection design is a minimal affair mostly of the shapes of tree branches. Costume designer Jeff Sturdivant’s decent creations ably suggest a fantastical dimension. Bruce A! Kraemer’s lighting design is solid and sound designer Ian Wehrle efforts are clear. The totality of these elements is professional but underwhelming.
Lauren Capkanis is spirited as the young Sycorax. Singing and dancing with flair, Nick Giedris is a lively and witty Ariel. The ensemble of Kelly D. Cooper, Hui-Shan Yong, Taylor Graves, Michael Pichardo, and Brianna Fernandez all energetically embrace their roles several of which require a great deal of time wearing striped body suits and animal masks.
Sycorax, Cyber Queen of Qamara does have some fascinating sequences but not enough of them.
Sycorax, Cyber Queen of Qamara (through November 18, 2018)
HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212 352 3101 or visit http://www.egoactus.com/sycorax.html
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
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