I remember when each and every building in the Dallas Arts District went up – starting decades ago when I worked downtown and they built the Art Museum and I’d sit in the sculpture garden and eat my paper sack sandwich lunch (it was free back then, believe it or not). Then the Symphony hall, and the Nasher. Finally, the completion of the district with the Opera House and the Wyly theater (there is still one more theater under construction).
I love the area and hope that Dallas can make it into the vibrant urban spot they want. So far, it’s a beautiful but usually desolate destination. It hasn’t reached the tipping point where the vast population out in the suburbs think of downtown as a place to go – but the city is working on it.
One fact that I was definitely wrong on is that, as much as I loved the Wyly as architecture, I was afraid I’d never be able to actually go to the thing. It felt like a gift to the wealthy, a plaything for the rich, and the poor proles like myself, the workin stiffs, would never be able to afford to visit.
I was mistaken. I read that the Dallas Theater Center was producing The Tempest at the Wyly and I surfed over to check out the price. It cost about what a 3D movie is going for. Well, I love me some Shakespeare, so I clicked on to a Tuesday night and bought a couple tickets. I was as interested in the theater itself as the play, so I bought the cheapest seats – up in the nosebleed section.
The Wyly is a magnificent and unique piece of architecture. It is a theater of a revolutionary “Stacked” design – the the boxoffice and lounge, performance space, rehearsal and ancillary spaces are piled up on top of each other to give tremendous flexibility and endless possibilities for unique performances. I looks like a Borg Cube has landed in downtown Dallas and it operates like a theater “machine.”
I was excited to actually see the thing in action. Oh, and I love “The Tempest” too.
We rode the DART train downtown to the Pearl Station and walked over to the Wyly. You descend down a ramp to the main entrance which is beneath the building itself. Then you ride an elevator up to the seats. We were in the cheap seats – but they were still great. We were looking down onto the stage from a short distance away – I can’t say these were any worse than the premium seats (only a few dollars more, actually) below us.
This was a pared-down version of The Tempest which let the skills of the actors shine through. Still, there was plenty of clever stagecraft – a terrifying plane crash in the beginning (with the rows of seats tumbling down through a hole in the floor) – a character emerging from beneath the earth through a crack in the chalky island soil, and a terrifying spirit descending from above to deliver the message of doom.
The production was gorgeous to look at.
One nice touch was that the lighting would subtly change whenever a character would deliver a soliloquy or aside. It was an effective way of signaling what was going on.
All modern Shakespeare productions, especially The Tempest, are modified to some extent. At first, I thought they had simplified the language, because I understood it so much better than I usually did. After a while, I realised that the text was the same, it was simply that the acoustics are so good in the Wyly that I could hear the actors like crystal. Greatness! Oh brave new world that has such people in’t.
In my opinion, a production of The Tempest rises or falls on Ariel. Can the Actor/Actress (I’ve seen both… about 50/50) make a believable sprite? Can they be light as a breeze when needed while as powerful and terrifying as a storm? This production had a local actor that has made it on Broadway, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka … and he did a great job. They were able to use his singing voice as a powerful tool to move the drama along – too often I’ve seen the songs in The Tempest be more of a distraction than an effective part of the play.
So, I went down there to see the theater, and I was not disappointed. And I came away impressed with the production, I really enjoyed it… and after all, the play’s the thing (oops, wrong Shakespeare play).
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev’d by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.