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Review of Trinity Shakespeare's The Tempest

Updated on June 21, 2014

The Tempest 2014

Miranda looks out on the sea at the tempest her father has created.
Miranda looks out on the sea at the tempest her father has created. | Source

A mighty tempest indeed!

There is much to love, much to laugh at, and much to wonder at in Trinity Shakespeare's production of The Tempest. The cast, which performs this play in repertory with A Comedy of Errors, is superb, the set is beautiful, and the visual effects are stellar.

David Coffee is both wickedly funny and tragically profound in his role as Caliban, the sole native of Prospero's magic isle where most of the characters find themselves shipwrecked in Act I. Coffee, whose operatic voice lent itself to his roles at Trinity Shakespeare last year, opens the play singing Shakespeare's haunting song "The Wind and the Rain" in a Gollum-esque throaty voice. The song is not from The Tempest (it comes from Shakespeare's last comedy Twelfth Night) but no matter, it sets the right mood for what will be a dark and musical fantasy. The play features many songs, most of them written by Shakespeare, which help carry the plot and enhance the play's dream-like quality. If anything negative can be said of this production, it is that the songs sometimes detract from the poetry of the play itself but these conflicts are rare and the music is of such quality that it is easily forgiven.

After Coffee's exit, Trinity Shakespeare creates a mighty tempest on stage using strobe lighting, thunder sound effects, and some impressive choreography to simulate a shipwreck. Following the shipwreck, the passengers find themselves stranded on a desert isle, controlled by the deposed Duke of Milan, Prospero (Brent Alford), now a mighty sorcerer. Alford played Shylock to perfection in Trinity Shakespeare's 2012 production of The Merchant of Venice and he brings to the role of Prospero the same hunger for revenge. Aiding him is his slave Ariel, played by the talented Kelsey Milbourn, whose beautiful singing voice alone is well worth the price of admission. While the relationship between Prospero and Ariel is often treated as a colonial relationship, the choice to cast a woman as Ariel highlights the parallels between Ariel and Miranda. Prospero loves them both and yet he cannot seem to resist manipulating them and the rest of the cast, living out the ultimate patriarchal fantasy of total control.

Prospero is not the only character in this play who fantasizes. Stephano and Trinculo, two drunken idlers also shipwrecked on the island, briefly dream of usurping Prospero with the help of Caliban. Richie Haratine and Jackie Cabe play the roles of Stephano and Trinculo with gusto, making the would-be conquerors comic romp feel like a continuation of their madcap antics in Trinity Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. Their chemistry with Coffee is magic itself and the trio steal most of the shows laughs.

Meanwhile, Prospero's uses his magic manipulate the men who stole his dukedom, all the while scheming to marry his daughter Miranda (Alyssa Robbins) to Ferdinand (Bradley Gosnell), heir to the Duke of Naples. While the parts of Miranda and Ferdinand are often throwaway roles, Robbins and Gosnell make them come alive as real and believable people swept up in the magic of the play. The pair also create some delightful comedy along the way, drawing well-earned laughter. As their courtship becomes an engagement, Prospero delights them, and the audience with a display of magic. While this wedding masque can be boring fare in the wrong hands, artistic director T. J. Walsh makes it a beautiful musical performance, featuring Liz Mikel in a showstopping appearance.

Our Revels Now Are Ended...

Trinity Shakespeare's play selections always inform one another, and this years choices seem particularly insightful. A Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's first comedy and one of his first successes, makes an excellent counterpoint for The Tempest, widely regarded as the last play Shakespeare wrote on his own. The former expresses the excitement of a young playwright, writing within the rigid generic conventions of commedia dell'arte using a familiar plot. The later is a highly original work, blending comedy and tragedy in equal measures, representing the work of a mature playwright, ready to retire from the stage. The moody Antipholus who ponders sorrow and delight in Syracuse grows into the aging Prospero who bids farewell to the theater and in the last speech of The Tempest, entreats the audience: "Set me free."

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