note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
Don’t worry if you’re not a William Shakespeare fan, and you don’t understand or appreciate his works. This year, the world is celebrating the bard’s 450th birthday, so theaters everywhere are featuring a plethora of his works.
At American Repertory Theater’s (ART) production of “The Tempest,” you’ll hardly recognize Willie’s work, which has been artfully redesigned and adapted by versatile playwright-director Aaron Posner and magician Teller. It’s a banquet for the senses. Oh, the story’s there, and some of his prithees, nays, and methinks-type dialogue is, too, but minimally.
ART and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, Nev., have joined forces to create this spectacular, eye- and ear-popping, fun adventure for the entire family. There’s Dust Bowl ballads and grass roots music created by Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan, adding narration and rhythm, while fun band-vocalists Rough Magic perform, (directed by Shaina Taub) on the uppermost upper level of a wrecked ship.
Choreographer Matt Kent of renowned experimental dance group Pilobolus created gravity and anatomically-defying movement, and Teller, of Penn and Teller fame, produces over-the-top, awesome magic. Besides these headliners, theater organizers have gathered a phenomenal, amazing cast and crew, bringing non-stop excitement to the stage, in the aisles, and among us onlookers.
Scenes of fantasy, illusion, and action confound and abound. Daniel Conway’s handsome, tri-tiered shipwrecked set, Paloma Young’s timeless costumes that transcend eras, Darron West’s battery of sound effects and Christopher Akerlind’s mind-boggling lighting elevate the bard’s comedy from classic to colossal.
Prospero (the intrepid Tom Nelis) and his pale, ghostly-hued spirit Ariel (astoundingly portrayed by Nate Dendy) perform magical stunts ranging from sleight of hand to body levitation, item appearances and disappearances, swirling smoke and fog to flashy explosions. Zachary Eisenstat and Manelich Minnifee as Prospero’s adopted, monstrous, sorta conjoined twins, son of evil witch Sycorax, evoke shock and awe with their incredible acrobatic, synchronized movement.
Unlikely young lovers Joby Earle as Ferdinand, youthful, blushing Prince of Naples-son of Alonso the King (Christopher Donahue), and Charlotte Graham as Prospero’s sweet, innocent daughter Miranda, are charming together, their love-at-first-sight courtship, enchanting. Ferdinand is an awkward,sincere youth, while Miranda,who has never seen another human before, except her father, is struck speechless.
The story is somewhat sinister, but not here. In fact, Posner defines it as the story of a father and daughter, and his love and devotion to her. The underlying plot of redemption and forgiveness exists, too, but is secondary to its trickery, tomfoolery, and treachery.
Antonio, (Louis Butelli), the power-usurping, treacherous brother of Prospero, who’s the true Duke of Milan, had exiled the duke and his toddler daughter Miranda, setting them adrift at sea, expecting them to perish. That paved his way to laying claim to Prospero’s title, lands, and holdings.
But, ah, this is Shakespeare, who loves to dally in human nature, fantasy and the supernatural. Prospero and little Miranda become stranded on a mystical island, with monsters, a wicked sorceress, and other strange creatures. Because he possesses the book of magic, Prospero uses his unearthly powers to take control of its inhabitants, enslaving them to do his bidding.
After 10 years and more, Prospero exacts his revenge on his brother and his party, by smashing their ship, and stranding them on his island.That’s when the fun, mystery, magic, attempted murders, music, mayhem, and love occur in rat-a-tat fashion, relentlessly entertaining theatergoers.
Filling in the fun and confusion in this must-see production are Jonathan M. Kim as Trinculo and Eric Hissom as Stephano, musicians from Alonso’s court; Dawn Didawick as kindly noblewoman Gonzala; Edmund Lewis as Alonso’s tepid brother, Sebastian; and Christopher Rose as Minon.
BOX INFO: Two-act play, adapted from William Shakespeare’s play by Aaron Posner and Teller, appearing at the American Repertory Theater’s Loeb Drama Center, (64 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge) through June 15, at the. For performance times, ticket information and reservations, call 617-547-8300 or visit americanrepertorytheater.org.