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A CurtainUp Review
The Tempest

Mercy on us!--We split, we split! .— Boatswain
) Myra Lucretia Taylor and Sam Morales (Photo by Joan Marcus )
The single-mom Prospero (Myra Lucretia Taylor) contemplates revenge in the Mobile Unit's gender-blind production of The Tempest. Directed by Laurie Woolery, and now in its sit-down run at the Public Theater, this tale about revenge, and its possible alternatives, is the perfect show to see for Mother's Day.

Here's the plot: Prospero, a magus and the rightful Duke of Milan has been usurped by her brother Antonio (Dan Domingues) and has escaped to a deserted island. Once there, she has tried to make a home for her daughter Miranda (Sam Morales). When Prospero conjures a tempest to sink her brother's ship, she also sets the stage for revenge with her brother and his comrades who wash ashore.

The performances goes without a hitch. Claire DeLiso looks after the scenery, which is designed to leave plenty of room for the actors to enter and exit the performing area in a nanosecond. At center stage there is an outline of a large sphere, inscribed with semi-abstract celestial images. Does it represent Prospero's magic? Is it a navigation chart? Or does it foreshadow Prospero's pageant that presents the goddesses Iris, Juno, and Ceres? Who knows. But it visually anchors the production and subtly reminds us of the play's major themes of magic and art.

Props are few and far between: a sturdy rope, a trunk, a large blanket, and Prospero's staff. But why have more? The language is so magical that it makes scenery almost unnecessary.

In the opening scene, we see several performers holding a rope and improvising the Act 1 ship wreck. So convincing are their helter-skelter movements (movement direction by Christopher Windom) that their invisible ship is chewed to ribbons before our eyes. Yes, this is better than watching it in digitalized form on film. For the audience is only an arm's length away from the action when the Boatswain shouts: "Mercy on us!--We split, we split!"

The company knocks itself out to perform the entire play in 90 minutes sans intermission. Yes, some scenes are eliminated, and other ones trimmed down. But this all adds up to a compact production that gives us the fable without its embroidery.

As for the acting, the standout is clearly Myra Lucretia Taylor playing Prospero. Taylor is the most even-tempered Prospero I have seen on stage to date. Yes, she is stern. But she comes across more like a Mother Earth figure who doesn't need to raise her voice to be heard.

Kudos also to Jasai Chase Owens, who inhabits the young lover Ferdinand with panache. He looks at home on stage and has excellent acting instincts.

Be prepared to see some tribal masks, men dressed up as mythological dogs, and some audience participation. No worries if you don't like to be pulled on stage. The audience participation here is simply reciting some lines with the cast, who are top-notch prompters.

This Tempest is all of a piece, all fun, and all no fuss. Original music (composed by Michelle J. Rodriguez) performed on various instruments, adds mood and atmosphere. It is part tribal, part exotic, part ancestral, and altogether in the right key. What's more, it solves, at least temporarily, the problem of how to add music to the play without drowning out Shakespeare's poetry.

For those newbies to the Mobile Unit, here's its history in a nutshell: The inaugural mobile tour was in 1957 when The Public's founder Joe Papp directed Romeo and Juliet. Six decades later, his program to bring free Shakespeare to the people is still going strong.

The Tempest is one of the Bard's most popular plays. And in this new gender-blind production gives the old play a new spin and fits right in with the Metoo era.

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The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Directed by Laurie Woolery
Cast: Myra Lucretia Taylor as Prospero, Jasai Chase Owens as Ferdinand/Ensemble, Dan Domingues as Antonio/Stephano/Ancestor/Ensemble, Danaya Esperanza as Ariel/Crew 1, Christopher Ryan Grant as Caliban/Boatswain/Ensemble, Sam Morales as Miranda/Crew 2/Ensemble, Nancy Rodriguez as Gonzalo/Ancestor/Ensemble, Reza Salazar as Sebastian/Trinculo, and JD Webster as Alonso/Ancestor/Ensemble
Sets: Claire Deliso
Costumes: Wilberth Gonzalez
Composer of original music: Michelle J. Rodriguez
Stage Manager: Janelle Caso
The Public's Shiva Theaer at 425 Lafayette Street. Tickets: Free Visit www.publictheater.org for more information.
From 4/29/19; opening 5/3/19; closing 5/19/19.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 5/1/19

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