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A CurtainUp Review
The Tempest
My father’s of a better nature, sir, Than he appears by speech.— Miranda
Elizabeth Waterston & Mandy Patinkin as Prospero and Miranda in The Tempest
Elizabeth Waterston & Mandy Patinkin as Prospero and Miranda in The Tempest
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Mandy Patinkin is, as he was anticipated to be, a virtual tempest in William Shakespeare’s fantastical tale of forgiveness and reconciliation. The Tempest begins excitingly with a ship being tossed about on a stormy sea. It is but one of the many artistic and practical considerations to be devised by a director and his designer, especially when working within a relatively small space and with the demands of a limited budget. We have seen big and splashy productions of this play in which the ill-fated ship is splintered, its crew and passengers flung into the waves, and with fantastical airborne spirits flying over the island where the fortunate survivors find themselves.

Despite space and budget limitations, there is plenty to awe us in the small-scaled but dramatically effective production, as conceived by director Brian Kulick and his set designer Jian Jung. A suggestion of clouds is painted on a platform suspended like a huge stiff sail and manipulated by ropes and pulleys. A loud crash is heard and the sky appears to fall almost to the floor instantly changing into a raging sea, upon which a decent sized model of a ship is being battered. The platform then rises again to reveal the island’s sandy white beach, an effective prologue. The special effects are relatively small-scale in this production by the Classic Stage Company, but Patinkin’s performance, in the principal role of Prospero, is larger than life and therein is the perfect balance.

There is actually less plot than meets the ears in this comedy that seems to be about how much of your world you are willing to give up in gaining the world. The play reveals how Prospero, after unfairly getting the gate as the Duke of Milan and set adrift at sea to die along with his daughter Miranda, is marooned on an island inhabited only by some strange creatures. Surviving by his own wits and the wisdom derived from his only possession, a book of magic, Prospero becomes a student of metaphysical science and controller of nature on an enchanted land. With his devoted servants, the sprite Ariel whom he rescued from a witch, and Caliban, the monstrously grotesque son of the witch, Prospero reigns supreme. . .that is until the day the survivors of a shipwreck make it to shore.

It is doubtful if you have ever before heard Prospero’s pontifically philosophical words spoken with more bombast than the way Patinkin addresses them. Yes, Patinkin, looking quite imposing in his all white casual garb and sporting a neatly trimmed beard, also gives the words a wry and sly curve that smartly infers Prospero’s own amusement with his powers as a reclusive sorcerer. He employs the timbre and tremor of a baritone in want of a melody. But, after a tenuous beginning with more bellowing than eloquence, he settles down, rants with authoritative conviction and postures in a league with the better Prosperos I have seen.

Patinkin’s many theater credits are both formidable and laudable. They include a Tony award for his Broadway debut as Che in Evita, and a Tony nomination as George in Sunday in the Park with George. There are moments when he is speaking that one can consider this production as Tempest: The Musical. There are, in fact, some nice musical interludes.

Tall and willowy Elizabeth Waterston is quite refreshing as the perfect and peerless Miranda, who has seen no man other than her father. Just as charming is Angel Desai, as the spirit Ariel, who diverts as much with her darting about as she does with her winsome appearance in a white two-piece sun-suit. There is much to empathize with in the humanized lizard-ry of shaven head Nyambi Nyambi’s Caliban. Both Desai and Nyambi have their limbs artistically tattooed.

Stark Sands, who garnered a Tony nomination for Journey’s End, convinces that he is every bit the image and demeanor of Ferdinand, "the goodlier man" with whom Miranda falls for at first sight. In support, Yusef Bulos is endearing as the "good old lord" and philosopher, as is Michael Potts as the remorseful King of Naples, and Karl Kenzler, as Antonio, Prospero’s brother, the wicked usurper.

As I am never disposed to loving the obligatory dopes and drunks that cavort through Shakespeare’s plays, I am inclined to bend in my admiration for the amusing shtick offered by Tony Torn, as Tinculo, the jester, and Steven Rattazzi, as Stefano, the King’s butler. I liked the simplicity of costume designer Oana Botez-Ban’s mainly white-on-white pallet for the islanders and gold for the intruders. I also admired the way that the stage hands gathered up and removed all that heavy sand that was spread over white sheets during intermission.

Editor's Note: For links to other Tempest productions reviewed at Curtainup, see our Shakespeare page.

The Tempest
  By William Shakespeare
  Directed by Brian Kulick

Cast: Bhavesh Patel (Boatswain), Tony Torn (Master of the Ship/Trinculo), Yusef Bulos (Gonzalo/), Michael Potts (Alonso), Karl Kenzler (Antonio), Craig Baldwin (Ferdinand), Stark Sands (Ferdinand), Mandy Patinkin (Prospero), Elisabeth Waterston (Miranda) Angel Desai (Ariel) , Nana Mensah (Spirit), Bhavesh Patel (Spirit/Adrian),Nyambi Nyambi (Caliban), Steven Rattazzi (Stefano).
  Sets: Jian Jung
Costumes: Oana Botez-Ban
Lighting: Brian Scott
Original Music & Sound: Christian Frederickson
Stage Manager: Christina Lowe
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission
  Classic Stage Company, 136, East 13th Street
  Puesday through Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM and 8 PM and Sunday at 1 PM. Additional performances: Sunday 9/28 & 10/19 at 7:30 PM. No Performances Tuesday 9/30 & Wednesday 10/08.
Tickets ($70 & $75).
  From 9/03/08; opening 9/18/08; closing 10/12/08
  Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/16/08
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