Soft rock, ballads and soulful blues are the musical framework for a thoroughly enchanting version of William Shakespeare's last play, "The Tempest," being staged by the University of Maryland Baltimore County's traveling troupe, Shakespeare on Wheels.
The romantic comedy/drama filled with the metaphoric wine of aged wisdom is considered by many to be the Bard's symbolic autobiography that explores human nature in lovely, lyrical poetry.
Sam McCready's excellent direction distinguishes this outstanding presentation. The superb physical action (always FFTC visual treat) has been painstakingly choreographed by McCready down to the smallest movement. (He also plays Prospero and sings.) The character development, interaction between actors and comedic timing are all right on target.
McCready also has cast women in several major male roles, which suits modern times.
Shakespeare's splendid text and songs are set to contemporary melodious cadence composed by Carl and Stephen Freundel. There are more than a dozen songs. To mention a few: the "Mean Caliban-Man Blues," the enticing "Come Unto These Yellow Sands," Prospero's compelling "The Story of My Life." But the hit of the production is the infectious rock number, "Where the Bee Sucks, There Suck I" sung by Ariel and, in the finale, in delightful rock concert style by Prospero.
Accompanying the actors on stage are musicians on keyboard, guitar and percussion.
Probing the relationship between generations, the play signifies that out of the storm and tempest of greed and lust for power and the struggle between tyranny and freedom there is moral redemption.
Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, banished from his kingdom, takes refuge with his daughter Miranda on a faraway island. They dwell there with Ariel, a good spirit of fire and air, and Caliban, the purely primitive, uncouth spirit of water and earth.
Prospero applies his knowledge of book-learned magic to stir up a tempest that shipwrecks his enemies. However, instead of seeking revenge, Prospero uses his considerable magic powers to unite all and create a "brave new world."
The stunning 17th century black and gold costumes contrast smartly with the silver and white futuristic costumes (all created by UMBC staff member Elena Zlotescu). The set, designed by William T. Brown, is placed in a mystical white and silver Never Never Land.
The entire ensemble (using hand mikes) turns in exceptional, articulate performances. McCready is eloquent as the silver-tongued Prospero. James Brown-Orleans charms as a vigorous, freedom-seeking Ariel. Jacob Zahniser is hilarious as Trinculo the clown. Also notable are: Thomas P. Cloherty, Nguyen Tucker, Laurie Martin, Chris Colussi, Michael P. Hoffmaster.
Talented Carl Freundel is a guitar-carrying Caliban sporting horns and a muzzle. He convinces but lacks the wild, coarse elements necessary to this unique non-human creature.
"The Tempest" is playing at sites in Maryland, Washington, Pennsylvania and West Vriginia through Sept. 7. Upcoming local performances are July 16 at Leakin Park, 4921 Windsor Mill Road; July 21 in the Wyman Park Dell, 3100 N. Charles St. Admission is free. For other dates and locations, call the UMBC box office at 455-2476.
Three one-acts are making their debut in the 10th Annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival at the Vagabond Theatre through Sunday. The first, "Hearing Test" by Willy Conley, is about a deaf teen-ager's rebellion. It is an interesting but incomplete idea that is not well carried out in structure or performance, except for Anne B. Mulligan as a determined audiological testing expert.
The second, "Talk of God," by Carol Oles, is an amusing but confusing jumble of man and the universe theme as seen through the eyes of two mental institution inmates. Nice performances by a verbose Jon Lipitz and Brian Applestein and a silent Joe Leatheman.
The third and best, "Life in the Last Act" by Robert Dunn, is a clever, sophisticated humorous slice of abstract life that occurs in a mysterious little bar that is definitely not of the Cheers variety. Although the theme is certainly not original, the piece intrigues from beginning to end.
Director Steve Goldklang has done an excellent job in setting the right tone here and has gathered a choice cast. Admirable performances are handed in by Tom Lodge, Vince Kimball, Joe Moore, Gloria Henderson, Darlene Deardorff, Diane Finlayson and Craig Newell.