Miranda; directed by Oskaras Koršunovas for OKT/Vilnius City Theatre in Vilnius, Lithuania, 17 July 2011.
Reviewed by Paweł Schreiber
The title of Oskaras Koršunovas’s performance is, significantly, not The Tempest, but Miranda. In Shakespeare’s play she is one of the most straightforward characters, a naive young girl always subordinated to a man with more complex motivations and worldview, be it her father or her husband-to-be. In the Lithuanian performance, it is Miranda who becomes the most interesting and enigmatic figure. When the aging Prospero lays the foundations for a better future, he knows it is her future that he is building, not much left of his own.
The space of the performance, designed by Dainius Liškevicius, is a meticulously reconstructed room of a Soviet dissident: shabby furniture, shelves overflowing with hundreds of books and trinkets, an old radio set and a telephone standing on a desk. The only literal echo of the desert island is the potted palm tree standing in the corner. The function of the space, however, remains the same as in The Tempest – it is a place of banishment by the order of an unjust ruler, where only the piles of books remind the exile about who he used to be.
The room has only two inhabitants – a middle-aged man and his daughter, a young woman suffering from a severe case of cerebral palsy (brilliantly played by Povilas Budrys and Aurida Gintautaitė, respectively). Imprisoned together, they pass their time on everyday chores – feeding, a bit of exercise, one or two reluctant moves in an ongoing chess match. There is a lot of tenderness here, present in the minute, precise gestures of the actors, but also fatigue brought by an unbearably monotonous life. The only moments of relief come with reading – the daughter is a keen listener, sometimes behaving like a child listening to a bedtime story, and sometimes being surprisingly perceptive. Her favourite book is The Tempest. When her father reads it – or, rather, reenacts it, taking the roles of the male characters and casting his daughter in the passive role of Miranda – the boundary between the shabby Soviet apartment and the Shakespearean island disappears.
Prospero, the magician, uses the little he has to create the landscape of the island, for instance the hum of the radio set becomes the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. At one point it appears that actual magic is at work – in the scene of conjuring the storm, the room grows dark and fills with smoke, illuminated from time to time by strange flashes. As the description of the tempest ends, Prospero comes back from the kitchen with a burned saucepan, and the lights return to normal – the blackout is over. This is the nature of the theatre created by the characters in Miranda – it is built out of the simplest things, yet unpredictable and appealing. One never knows when the game of make-believe can suddenly turn dangerous – in the smoke-filled darkness the daughter of the magician screams with terror.
As the performance develops, the relationship between the two characters becomes more and more complex. The initial situation is quite clear – the disabled daughter is taken care of by the long-suffering, but tender father. Quite soon, however, more sinister elements start to appear. The father is an alcoholic. In his delirium he sees his daughter transformed into a nightmare version of Ariel, with limbs twisted at impossible angles and a strange high-pitched voice. This Ariel is not as much a slave, as a tormentor of his master, as well as a peculiar, uncannily fit counterpart for the disabled Miranda, reversing the original order involving a helpless daughter and a dominating father. Each new character entering the play within the play further complicates matters. When the caring Prospero turns into Caliban, suggestively playing with the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner, there is a sinister hint of incestuous sexual abuse. The relationships between Shakespeare’s characters start to mirror the different aspects of that between the father and the daughter imprisoned in the flat – care and tenderness on the one hand, power struggles and suppressed desires on the other.
The climax of the performance, and a possible turning point in the way it can be read, comes in the scene of Ariel’s release. Miranda disappears; all that is left is the empty armchair by the chess table. The man embraces it and cries; then he picks up the chess game where it stopped, and the question emerges whether Miranda was a person at all, or merely a figment of his imagination, a handicapped idea born in the stuffy flat, which he had to let go of in order to allow it to fully develop; a dream of freedom, perhaps, or of a future. In the final scene, right before his apparent fatal heart attack, Prospero delivers Macbeth’s ‘tomorrow’ speech. As he slumps lifeless on the armchair, his strange daughter reappears, dressed as a ballerina and dancing a clumsy rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake over his body.
The structure of Miranda resembles a maze of mirrors. The dissident’s room is reflected in The Tempest, which in turn reflects his hidden desires, dreams and degradation, all on the backdrop of Soviet history which becomes a universalized image of imprisonment. Like in a glass maze, one never knows what is real, and what is merely a trick of light. There may be no way out. In Miranda, the only hope lies in the simplest forms of theatre – out of everyday objects, subjected to his gestures and voice, Prospero builds worlds and characters, and an escape route, if not for him, then at least for his daughter, who may or may not be yet another instance of make-believe. It is the ambiguous figure of Miranda and her liberation that focuses one of the central problems of Koršunovas’s recent work (especially Hamlet, The Lower Depths and The Seagull)– the balance between the power of the theatre and its ultimate futility. In the growing body of Koršunovas’s brilliant stagings of Shakespeare, Miranda is definitely one of the finest and most complex works.