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A CurtainUp Review
This first production of the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park season opens gently but quickly segues to the violent storm at sea in which a ship its passengers and crew become its victim. This scene has been cleverly devised by director Michael Greif with the requisite sturm und drang. Sailors in black slickers scuttle up and down the ship's rigging amid the flashes of lightning and the crash of thunder before being hurled into the sea. It's one for few exciting scenes in a staging that is seriously in search of excitement or any presence of wizardry.
For the most part set designer Riccado Hernandez's turbulent seascape projected onto three large panels is minimalist. A metal bridge spans the island where the survivors find themselves. The spacious playing area of wooden planks is dressed with only one small pile of black rocks.
One could quibble that a floor of wooden planks instead of a sandy beach is not suggestive of an island is either tropical or under enchantment, but there will be some conjuring afoot to be sure. In fact, the special effects are egregiously in short supply in this somewhat stolid and studied production.
I have no complaint that 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 essentially 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 in an enchanted land. With his devoted servants, the sprite Ariel, whom he rescued from a witch, and the monster 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 takes patience to become rapt listening to Prospero's pontifically philosophical words, even as earnestly bellowed by Waterston. With his white beard and white hair — nicely trimmed to compliment his white shirt, black slacks and comfy sandals —, Waterston slyly delivers orders and declarations with an air of satisfaction. All are clearly punctuated with fits and starts of self-mockery.
An appropriately vivacious Francesca Carpanini looks lovely in the scalloped white dress (one wonders immediately "who" is she wearing...designer Emily Rebholz that's who) in which she romps about as the perfect and peerless Miranda, who has seen no man other than her father.
Blithe is the word for Chris Perfetti as the spirit Ariel, who diverts as much with his singing as with his darting about in casual attire. His torso is curiously strapped with something akin to a harness, a fashion statement that is also affixed to the mud-covered, muscular Louis Cancelmi as the monstrous, physically distorted but mentally diabolical Caliban.
Rodney Richardson convinces easily as Ferdinand, "the goodlier man" that Miranda falls for at first sight. In responsible if not extraordinary support are Bernard White as the "good old lord" and philosopher, Charles Parnell as the remorseful King of Milan and Cotter Smith, 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 remain as ever immune to the protracted shtick offered by Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Trinculo, the jester, and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Stephano, the King's butler. Act II finally brings to the fore the play's most visual treat: an imaginative ballet-like gathering of the creatures of the island. This explosion of color and movement is long-awaited and an unexpectedly lovely prelude to the play's celebratory climax, hardly plausible but suitably palatable.
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