A sorceress, and sequins, and spirits – oh my! THE TEMPEST playing through July 22nd at The Old Globe Festival Theatre plays up the theatricality for a wonderful night under the stars.
Prospera (Kate Burton) is the Duke of Milan, or at least she was until her brother Antonio (René Thornton Jr) conspired with the King (Robert Foxworth) to throw her out of power. Deserted on an island with her daughter Miranda (Nora Carroll) Prospera uses her command of dark magic through her beloved books and cloak to get her revenge on those who have wronged her.
Prospera utilizes Ariel (Philippe Bowgen) a spirit who she has control over, to bring those that she deems deserving to her island for her vengeance. Another magical creature on the island is Caliban (Manoel Felciano) a half man half monster who chafes under the restrictions (and the chastity belt) Prospera placed on him. He looks for ways to usurp her control as he feels this island should be his since his mother was the reigning witch before Prospera arrived.
Prospera controls the circumstances of their arrival and experiences on the island, but as the play progresses she finds that the spirit Ariel’s compassion for these people makes her reconsider and ponder mercy instead.
Burton is an impressive Prospera; furious, strategic, and calculating as she uses her will to create and command the island and those around her. Her magic, and her spirit helper Ariel, allow her to control everything and everyone to the point of being seemingly cold-hearted. Want to get some people to your island? Create a storm to shipwreck them where you have all the power. You don’t want someone to see or hear something? Magically put them to sleep (even if it is your own daughter).
More impressive is that Burton marries these darker elements of Prospera’s nature with a real sense of compassion and tenderness for her daughter’s happiness. When Miranda meets the Prince of Naples Ferdinand (Sam Avishay), they naturally they fall in immediate love. Miranda assures him that “My mothers of a better nature, sir, than she appears by speech.” This proves true in the moments where Burton watches over the pair with warmth and affection.
The set by Alexander Dodge is a dilapidated theatre, with partially crumbling balconies, scattered seats, piles of books, and other debris that has washed up on the island. The theatre emphasizes the stagecraft to Prospera’s magic, for she is as much playwright and director of these unfolding acts, scenes, weather, noise, music, and even the characters wakefulness as she is a player.
Her magic also plays with a sense of dreaming and wakefulness, which proves tricky for the island newcomers as she manipulates consciousness and circumstances. Taking a cue from the oft repeated words “strangeness” and “sleep,” much like a dream this play blends the more grounded realities with the fantastical. Nowhere is this more emphasized than with the costumes (by David Israel Reynoso) with sequined sprites, ominous devils in red sequins, and a magical cape with, you guessed it, more sequins.
For where else but a dream would a conversation with your potential magical mother in law lead to a sequined trio singing pop songs, complete with dancing farm hands, and (more sequined) spirits?
Bowgen is versatile as the spritely Ariel, with a lovely singing voice, an empathetic yearning for freedom from his servitude, and a genuine compassion for the people on the island that helps melt the last of the icy walls around Prospera’s heart.
Carroll is a sweet Miranda and is matched by the gallant prince played by Avishay. Foxworth is regal as the grieving King who thinks his son has drowned in the storm. René Thornton Jr. as Prospera’s brother Antonio and Daniel Ian Joeck as the King’s younger brother Sebastian are conniving and power hungry as they plot to acquire more power. (Younger siblings are so untrustworthy.)
Robert Dorfman as Stephano, and Andrew Weems as Trinculo, a pair of drunks who Caliban mistakes for gods who can help him reclaim the island threaten to steal the show. With a comic delivery that truly makes the lines his own, Dorfman makes Stefano a drunken clown who could be king.
Yet it’s Burton who is the true ruler of this island fantasy; her clarity and command of the stage and the language make this a show not to be missed.
THE TEMPEST is playing at the outdoor Old Globe Lowell Davies Festival Theatre through July 22nd. For ticket and show time information go to www.theoldglobe.org