ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
By Elyse Sommer
Director Eleanor Holdridge has proved herself to be as much a magician as Prospero, beginning with the way she transforms the theater itself into the ship caught up in the tempest stirred up by Prospero's magical powers. With actors clamoring along the rails of the theater's upper level the audience members become not just viewers but fellow passengers, fostering an actor--audience intimacy that prevails throughout the two and a half hours.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, it embraces the themes of revenge and forgiveness. The storm (Shakespeare's favorite symbol of tragic conflict) engineered by Prospero has its genesis in his being usurped by his brother Antonio's (James Goodwin Rice) and escaping to an island with his little daughter Miranda. Here he has forged a dukedom of his books and instruments of alchemy, served by two slaves -- the sprite Ariel and the half-man, half-monster Caliban. It is the knowledge accumulated in his cell (handily positioned on the loge at the rear of the stage, thus extending the fairly small playing area), that has given Prospero the means to revenge himself. He summons the tempest to shipwreck the King of Naples (Dennis Krausnick), his son Ferdinand, the duplicitous Antonio and some of his henchmen. Ariel, is promised her freedom if she annoys and perplexes the cast ashore noblemen. Trinculo, the jester and Stephano the butler get Caliban drunk enough to plot a rebellion against his master. Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love. After some more fantastical tricks, Prospero brings the island populace together. He reveals his identity, forgives the now contrite nobles and blesses the union of the young couple, which prompts Miranda's famous expression of joyous wonder, "O brave new world. That has such people in it!" .To quote another of the Bard's plays, "all's well that ends well."
The story with its man-made storm. pageantry and tomfoolery is made to order for the way Ms. Holdridge and her agile cast constantly keep pushing back the walls of the stage to encompass the entire theater. The punched-up performances of Dan McCleary and Beale bring burst after burst of belly laughs. McCleary, last seen as the tragic warrior Coriolanus, clearly relishes this chance to lighten up. He can evoke peals of giggles with just a long, silent stare. In one particularly funny scene lines from other Shakespeare plays are hilariously turned upside down, just Beale and Croy drunkenly tumble head-to-head into a bathtub. While Croy's Caliban is part of some of these clowns' hilarious hi jinks, he nevertheless manages to evoke the yearning to rise above the monster.
Kristina Wold is delightfully lissome and otherworldly as Prospero's other slave, Ariel, as are the other sprites (Tené A. Carter, Tracy Kinney and Christianna Nelson).
Lucia Brawley a young Julia Roberts look-alike and Jason Van Over, both new company members, are ideally cast as the young lovers. (What a terrific Romeo and Juliet they would make). Dennis Krausnick and Josef Hansen, are as always reliable as the key nobles shipwrecked to this stage. From the time we see him perched in his cell to the end when he lets go of his magic wand, Michael Hammond dominates the play with his rich portrait of the alchemist who transforms his stormy act of vengeance into a peacemaking mission.
The play's fantastical elements have inspired many innovative productions, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one that is as much fun and at the same time more satisfyingly moving than this one. Kris Stone's set incorporates Prospero's scientific and alchemical concerns -- from the floor painted a deep blue with planetary images to the gold canopy imprinted with phrases such as "arctic circle " and "moveable horizon." To complete this feast for all the senses we have Michael Oberle's gorgeous costumes, the evocative lighting by Jane Cox, Susan Dibble's choreography which includes a spectacular soap bubble dance, and Daniel Levy's mood appropriate music and sound design.
Since opening night coincided with Kids's night when children are admitted free when accompanied by an adult, there were plenty of youngsters in attendance, many no older than six. The dynamic staging had even the youngest members of the audience attentive even during the less vaudevillian episodes. This is definitely a theatrical treat for the whole family.
Review of a London Tempest