by Julie Congress · August 15, 2014
Take Shakespeare’s The Tempest and transport it to Fire Island – Prospero becomes the drag queen Madam Sparrow, Ariel is a fairy in another sense of the word and Alonso manages a mega-corporation rather than a kingdom. Add a sparse but complex score by Bjorn Berkhout (who also wrote the book and lyrics in addition to the music) and you have the new musical The Hurricane.
The most striking feature of the show for me was the use of drag – Madam Sparrow became a unique, separated entity, somehow highlighting both the aloof power of the Prospero character and the loneliness she/he must feel. She towers both physically and metaphorically over all of the other characters – a seemingly untouchable puppeteer mastering everyone’s fates. Actor Mykel Vaughn gives prowess, class and surprising humanity to her, expertly walking a tightrope between campy and genuine.
I am always amazed that as an audience member I can frequently feel more for a puppet (or an animated character for that matter) than for a realistically portrayed human. So too did I find fascinating that I felt emotionally connected to the inherently artifice-driven Madam Sparrow. Despite (or perhaps because of) the thick mask of makeup and the deliberately chosen Norma Desmond-esque gestures and heightened mannerisms and vocal patterns, I found myself invested in her character in a way that I did not feel for the other more predictable and easily pegged characters.
The Hurricane is billed as a musical comedy, but I found its tone more elusive than that (but, then again, so too is the source material – while technically a comedy, The Tempest has some rather heavy themes running through it). While the plot of The Hurricane lends itself to camp, director Taryn Turney refreshingly resists going fully in this style; yes, there are moments of leather daddy jokes, a glittering top hat and cane makes an appearance and Miranda, Madam Sparrow’s ward, operatically sings of wanting to lose her virginity, but many other moments are handled with surprising seriousness. Most notably, the closeted, bowtie- and sweater-vest-wearing Sebastian (Robert Ackerman) has what is simultaneously a funny and sweetly sincere moment of self-realization about his sexuality. Ackerman breathes energetic fun into the second act as we endearingly watch Sebastian embrace his true self.
Let yourself get washed ashore on an unknown island this FringeNYC season with The Hurricane – things are not always as they appear at first glance.