by Philip Psutka
55 min / Aerial Theatre, Drama / PG
Two servants of a sorcerer form an unlikely rapport on a windswept, mystical island. One is a simple wildman and the other is an ethereal magical sprite. Phillip Psutka’s Rough Magic is an ambitious, minimalist production that imagines the relationship between Caliban and Ariel in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
I’d recommend at least a passing understanding of The Tempest to follow the drama of Caliban and Ariel, as figures like Prospero and Sycorax are often referenced but never seen. The aerial choreography brings a physical height and depth to the scenes that would otherwise be difficult to portray. But this is not a show that rises or falls on elaborate choreography. The heart of the play is the conflict between the earthy, animalistic Caliban (Philip Psutka) and the aloof, flighty Ariel (Lindsay Bellaire). I enjoyed the understated set, which put the weight of the performance purely on the shoulders of the two actors. Ariel and Caliban must physically command their celestial and earthly domains, as well as deliver dialogue at a furious pace. I’d bet that Rough Magic features the most demanding performances at Fringe this year. Lindsay Bellaire and Phillip Psutka are a game pair, matched in strength and energy.
Ariel and Caliban play, argue and fight about the nature of freedom and loyalty. But the audience already knows how The Tempest ends, and what happens to them both. They can’t escape their fates any more than they can change their natures. This puts an unspoken border around the drama, and near the end the story unwinds to a rather muted conclusion.
Nonetheless, Rough Magic is unlike any other show at the festival. Opening night was almost a full house at the largest venue, and I suspect this unique experience will be enough to draw large audiences for the rest of the run.
Rough Magic by Philip Psutka is playing at Academic Hall (133 Séraphin-Marion) until Saturday June 17, 2017. Tickets cost $12 online and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the show schedule and box office info. Apt613 is trying to see every show on opening weekend of the 2017 Ottawa Fringe Festival. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.