HITFest's Production of 'The Tempest’ to Open at Mulford Farm

“The Tempest,” that old play by William Shakespeare, will take over East Hampton, specifically Mulford Farm, from Wednesday to Aug. 24
Peter-Tolin Baker's set design for "The Tempest" uses the rear barn at Mulford Farm as its focus. Jennifer Landes photos

Last Thursday night, a storm brewed in Bridgehampton and threatened to spread east across the towns into the peaceful Village of East Hampton. This being late July, everything about the previous sentence is spurious. The weather was calm and East Hampton, peaceful? In July?

Still, there is no denying that “The Tempest,” that old play by William Shakespeare, will take over East Hampton, specifically Mulford Farm, from Wednesday to Aug. 24.

The Hamptons Independent Theater Festival, or HITFest, is keeping true to the play’s setting in an abstract sense, but taking liberties with casting. Josh Perl, the director of the play, said he had given two male roles to females and was enjoying the way that changed the emotional register and dynamic between the characters.

Corey Tazmania, no stranger to taking on male Shakespearean characters, will play Prospero as Prospera. She said last Thursday that when she studied Shakespeare at Oxford one of her first roles was Holofernes in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” a role in which gender was the least of the challenges. The character, a pretentious scholar, imbues his Elizabethan language with Latin, with mispronunciations and other verbal miscues that define his role.

She and two fellow actors, Michelle Girolami and Matthew Haas, were taking a break from rehearsal at the Bridgehampton Community House and recharging with some marshmallow Peeps on the side stairs. They were in their third week of rehearsal.

Ms. Tazmania said that in Shakespeare each part has a different quality and the language of the character has a certain cadence and rhythm. “The choice of the language is different too, the challenge of each character is that.” She is enjoying Prospera’s great language as well as her personality.

“I think she is thoughtful, rather sentimental, and very respectful of whole forms of organizations, such as religion, family, and government.” She added that the process of forgiveness and growth she goes through and her vulnerability around the people she loves are compelling.

Mr. Haas, who plays Ferdinand, studied Shakespeare at New York University’s Tisch Center for the Arts and has had roles in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “As You Like It.” He took Ms. Girolomi, who plays Miranda, by Mulford Farm for the first time that day and said he was looking forward to playing there. “Hopefully, it won’t be too loud, but we’ll make do. The horns will be our thunder.”

Rehearsals have been alternating between the community house, the music room of Pierson High School, and an outdoor space in Quogue.

Initially trained in voice as a coloratura soprano at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Ms. Girolami found her way to acting and has been doing film and commercial work most recently. Her background will come in handy, as there will be some singing in the production.

She and the other actors praised Mr. Perl for “creating a space that is collaborative. He wants to hear a lot of different voices.” Ms. Tazmania agreed that he “has given the actors a lot of freedom to find our characters on our own.”

The set and costumes, under the direction of Peter-Tolin Baker, are for a story “playing vaguely in its time within an exotic foreign place, not being too literal in where it is.” The set is being built this week. It includes a curtain painted with a jungle scene inspired by Henri Rousseau and a stage as a series of stepped platforms to resemble rock formations and jetties, “or more conceptually, Prospero’s books tumbled over.”

Dress will be important in the play, but it too will have to be more suggestive than literal due to budget constraints. Some of the key questions about costume revolve around the women playing male roles. “A lot of the discussion tonight was about whether a female playing a traditional male role of nobility changes the nuance in any way.” If so, “should that be played up or down with a dress or pants?”

Mulford Farm, with its somewhat contemporaneous buildings, hints at the new world that so fascinated Elizabethans at the time. “Right across the street there is the original Gardiner tomb” with his dates of 1599 to 1663. “That time and place for Long Island and its role in the settlement of the New World has resonance to the time and place we’re setting the play in.”

Still, it’s all up to the interpretation. “We know these tales so well, it becomes about other people’s perspective and vantage points,” Ms. Tazmania observed. As someone once said to her, “it’s how you crack your own egg. It’s still an egg, but what you bring to the table is what makes it special.”

The performances will run Wednesday through Sunday at 7 p.m. The Children’s Museum of the East End will help children from its programs and from the community create the storm that opens the show. Those interested in participating are invited to come at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $10 for teens and free for kids under 10. Picnickers will be welcome.

Some of the leads of the production include, from left, Michelle Girolami, Corey Tazmania, and Matthew Haas.
The actors rehearsing a scene in the Bridgehampton Community House