What’s easy to forget, especially for us technologically-savvy denizens of the 21st century, is that theatre is magic. We’re lucky, therefore, that the Arden Shakespeare Gild’s production of The Tempest is around to remind us. It’s also easy to forget that The Tempest is all about magic, because Shakespeare’s audience saw the notion of taking over countries and enslaving its indigenous citizens rather differently than we do. Many modern productions emphasize the dark, post-colonial overtones of Shakespeare’s last play at the expense of the magic, but the folks at Arden plunge the audience into the world of magic right away, and that’s as it should be.
It’s worth the price of admission to enter the title storm. Director Henry Porreca uses dark sheets, cloaked actors as magical “shapes,” sound effects, and some real water (be prepared to get sprinkled a bit) to create the kind of storm that the most sophisticated CGI can’t give you—a storm that is by, of, and about, the stage. By then, we’re in—we’re a part of the community of theatre that lies at the heart of “community theatre,” and part of a sacred contract between performers, crew, and audience; they’re there to perform a story, and we’re there to listen.
And what a story! Shakespeare’s tale of the deposed Duke Prospero and the revenge he exacts on those who exiled him (including his own brother) encompasses the new world of sailing expeditions and the old world of Greek and Roman epic poetry; the play includes the sweep of a story that takes 20 years to come to fruition, yet with a plot that gets settled in the course of an afternoon—with a cast of characters featuring sprites, demi-monsters, goddesses, murderous traitors and outrageous drunks. All this plus Barbara Henry and Cecilia Vore’s handsome costumes, Sean Kelly’s delightful music, and the lovely outdoor setting the Gild provides, and you have a feast for the eyes and ears.
It’s true that not everything runs perfectly in this production; we could wish that Prospero (a genial James F. Smith) and Gonzalo, the loyal councilor (a touchingly determined Bob Forney), had more control of their lines and that the sound system wasn’t in battle with the actors’ dialogue (issues that might improve by the time you see it). But the power of theatre magic—and Shakespeare’s magic—is strong, indeed, mightier than the mistakes that we mere mortals sometimes make. There are also the charms of Dan Tucker, as Stefano, and Peter Hayes, as Trinculo, to savor—they make Shakespeare’s comic relief truly hilarious. When they’re joined by Robert G. DeMemigio’s Caliban—more a befuddled misfit than a treacherous monster—the laughs are plentiful and well-earned. James Kiesel, as the shipwrecked prince Ferdinand, and Tegan Harcourt, as Prospero’s daughter Miranda who is about to discover a “brave new world,” do well as the blossoming romantic couple, and Louise Craigen provides appropriately ethereal service as the airy spirit Ariel. As the conspirators, Jon Prendergast (Antonio, Prospero’s brother) and Alan Harbaugh (Sebastian, brother to the King of Naples) provide a welcome dose of dark-humored menace. Prendergast, in particular, does an admirable job of maintaining his haughty disdain even as he’s grudgingly accepting Prospero’s forgiveness.
In short, the Arden Shakespeare Gild is supplying as charming and pleasant a way to pass as summer evening as one could wish. Just three pieces of advice if you make the smart decision to share the magic—bring a light cushion to sit on and some unobtrusive mosquito repellent—and try not to sit too close to the speaker.
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Henry Porreca
June 17-25, 2011
Arden Shakespeare Gild
Frank Stephens Memorial Theatre & Gild Hall
2126 The Highway
Arden, DE 19810