THE TEMPEST, now on stage at Great Lakes Theatre, is thought to be Shakespeare’s last known play.
The script almost defies classification as it contains both tragic and comic themes, as well as romance. It explores many themes, including magic, betrayal, revenge, and family.
Twelve years after he and Miranda, his young daughter, were set adrift in exile, we find Prospero, a sorcerer, who was the Duke of Milan before his Kingdom was taken from him, living on an island with Miranda and his two servants—Caliban, a monster figure, and Ariel, a mischievous spirit.
As in many of the Bard’s works, there is a storm and a vessel is shipwrecked. In this case, the storm is the creation of Prospero who sees his chance for revenge when those who sent him into exile are aboard the ship near his island.
The passengers are caught in the storm, and eventually were brought ashore by Ariel, included are Ferdinand (son to the Queen of Naples), a handsome young man, who eventually falls in love with Miranda, as well as Trinculo (the king’s jester) and Stephano (the king’s butler), Alonso (Queen of Naples), Sebastian (Alonso’s brother), Antonio (Prospero’s brother, the usurping Duke of Milan), and Gonzalo (an honest councilor).
Prospero vows that once he achieves his goal of revenge, he will set Ariel free, and abandon his magic, saying:
I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.
(Side note: Some Bard experts posit that the character of Prospero is the symbol of Shakespeare, and the character’s renunciation of magic signals the writer’s farewell to the stage.)
As is the case in Shakespearian comedies, there is a peaceful ending in which the sorcerer forgives his wrong-doers for past bad deeds. As the group is ready to leaves the island, Ariel is told to provide good weather to guide the king's ship back to the royal fleet and then to Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda will be married. After this, Ariel is set free.
Traditionally, in an epilogue, Prospero requests that the audience set him free—with their applause. In the GLT version, however, the director has omitted that action.
This is not the only alteration to the script. Several roles usually portrayed by males are changed to female.
The GLT production is not as filled with outgoing slapstick and high drama as is normally the case with THE TEMPEST. Maybe it was the long Covid-influenced layoff, but there was a seeming lack of concentration and bigger than life presence that the show requires.
The farcical delight normally afforded by Trinculo and Stephano was not filled with the unbridled out-and-out slapstick, needed. This is a shame, as those characters are written to be the comic escape from the tragic elements.
Aled Davies is properly Kingly and tortured as Prospero. Joe Wegner was sprightly as Ariel, though a little more “Tinker Bell” would have added to the performance. Nick Steen, in a counter-role for the actor who usually plays handsome leading men roles at GLT, was properly tortured as Caliban. Pretty Angela Utera (Miranda) and dynamic Domonique Champion (Ferdinand) were charming as the young lovers.
The set design created by Efren Delgadillo, Jr. was overdone. There were massive amounts of flowing parachute material, which not only enveloped the stage, but also the walls, the upper proscenium and stalls to the right and left of the stage. It gave an overall illusion of massive ever-present oppressive clouds. The attempt to imitate a Christo’s wrapping installation, did not work.
Rick Martin’s lighting designs helped add story-telling texture.
It is hard to figure out what effect Helen Q. Huang was trying to get with her “let’s go shopping at the local thrift store and find costumes as well as costume-pieces-parts which we can sew together.” The cacophony of colors, styles and textures did little to set a meaningful visual tone.
Matthew Webb’s sound design and musical compositions enhanced the over-all effect.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: THE TEMPEST is not one of Shakespeare’s great plays, but, with the right production it can make for a positive classical theater experience. Multi-award-winning Director Sara Bruner, who is a master of staging the Bard, unfortunately was not up to her usual superb level in guiding this production.
THE TEMPEST runs at The Hanna Theatre from October 15-November 7, 2021. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to GreatLakesTheater.org