An admirable version of Shakespeare's last play, "The Tempest," is the final summer presentation of The New Century Theater, a young professional theater in residence in the Mildred Dunnock Theatre at Goucher College.
Running through Aug. 2, this fantastical story about the clash of aesthetic and evil forces manipulated by a great enchanter on a remote magical island has been commendably directed by Richard Pilcher. Good ensemble acting, some brilliantly conceived individual performances and excellent special effects mark this uniquely staged production.
As the plot goes, Prospero, the Duke of Milan, was overthrown by his brother, Antonio, and Alonzo, King of Naples, years before. Prospero and his little daughter Miranda were put to sea and landed on an island.
On the island, Prospero finds he has magical powers. With his magic wand he rules the spirits that surround him, namely, Ariel, a creature of joyous light and air, and Caliban, a mysterious savage with intellect and imagination but whose nature is immoral.
Prospero represents a highly noble view of life that transcends the petty. But he is plagued by a desire to punish those who wronged him.
One day his enemies are sighted near the island and Prospero causes a tempest to bring them ashore. As his adversaries plot to kill him and each other, the magician, fully aware of their intentions, smoothly foils their plans.
In the end, Prospero stays to the high road -- forgiving his enemies, breaking his wand and and engineering a joyous reconciliation. In its preoccupation with hard-earned mental prowess, "The Tempest" could easily be a metaphor for Shakespeare's relinquishing of his own imaginative powers -- the laying down of his pen and his peaceful return to Stratford.
Pilcher's interpretation is a solid, academic one and the characters are true to the text. But sometimes the action is a bit static. A few minor performances are uneven and the wondrous magical qualities of what is perhaps Shakespeare's wisest morality tale are downplayed.
There are, however, charming bursts of wizardry represented by woodland sprites and strangely shaped monsters conjured up by Prospero to intimidate his enemies. (The impressive masks and "creatures" are the creations of Eric Supensky).
Comic relief and buffoonery are provided by the delightfully despicable wretches, Stephano, a drunken butler, and Trinculo, a jester, played to the hilt by Bob Tull and Tom Seibert, respectively.
Mark Redfield, artistic director and founder of the New Century Theater, turns in a distinguished performance as Prospero. Always a compelling stage presence, Redfield is a quietly introspective Prospero, calmly presiding like a divine guidance over the chaotic lives of the island's inhabitants.
A superbly radiant performance is given by Equity actor James Ream, who plays the airy spirit Ariel. Curly-haired Ream manages to imbue his character with Puckish mischief while still retaining a shining other-worldly quality.
Lewis Shaw is splendid as the drooling savage Caliban, who also has his own primitive dream of power.
Mara De May is nicely convincing as Miranda, Prospero's daughter. But De May seems too pragmatic for this beguiling role. Good performances are given by Brian P. Chetelat, Tony Colavito, Bruce Godfrey and Joe Will.
The Maryland Art Festival is staging an exceptional production of Michael Bennett's sensational musical, "A Chorus Line," in the Stephens Hall Theatre at Towson State University through Aug. 2.
Director Kerry Casserly is reprising her Broadway role as Cassie.
In re-creating the original Bennett staging and choreography, Casserly has done marvels with the large. 26-member cast (most of them non-dancers). The now-familiar story of chorus dancers trying for that "big break" features amazing ensemble work and outstanding performances by Casserly, David Minges, Shannon Wollman, Beth Weber, Andrea J. Shrem and Ernie Ritchey.
The final number where all the cast members whirl about on stage in full costume is nothing short of dazzling.
The full orchestra is under the direction of Michael Decker.