A month ago, Stephen Dillane, gearing up for his dual roles in BAM’s Bridge Project — Jacques in As You Like It and Prospero in The Tempest — expressed his doubts to us about either of those plays ever being effectively staged. But at last Thursday’s performance of The Tempest, he had a more basic problem. During his first long speech of the night, directed to Prospero’s daughter, he plain forgot his lines.
A minute of silence at first seemed like another dramatic flourish from director Sam Mendes. But as Dillane tried to mumble his way out of the impasse, the silence loomed larger and larger, and at least during this one excruciating scene, the illusion of Prospero’s magical island was broken. Dillane took maybe five minutes to regain his footing. To be fair, it can’t be easy memorizing two 400-year-old plays you’re performing in repertory, one of which is completely carried by your monologues. The official press night of The Tempest had already been delayed
a couple of weeks three days — maybe owing to problems like this. What’s interesting is that this happened to such a seasoned actor, who has on his résumé a version of Macbeth performed as a one-man show (which is a lot of lines). Reviewers have already been finding him a cold and disengaged Prospero, and maybe underpreparation — combined with overthinking — is part of the problem. Perhaps he suffered from the kind of overconfidence that theater amateurs like Jennifer Garner and Claire Danes can’t afford to feel. Or maybe he just had a really bad day.