Local Shakespeare devotees have cause to celebrate this month with Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's superb production of The Tempest.
This comedic romance filled with mystical characters who manipulate the fates of courtiers and royals is one of William Shakespeare's last great plays, and some scholars contend it may be autobiographical, reflecting the Bard's later life.
Director Barry Genderson has set The Tempest in the free-spirited 1920s and has changed most of the principal characters from male to female.
The play is filled with music and dance to help tell the story of Prosper, the rightful Duchess of Milan, who was driven into exile by Queen Alonsa of Naples. After 12 years on a remote Mediterranean island, Prosper finds that her enemies have been shipwrecked on her island after surviving a great storm. The tempest gives Prosper power over her enemies. Prosper finds that Queen Alonsa's son Ferdinand has become smitten with her daughter Miranda.
Prosper is served begrudgingly by her slave Caliban and well by her spirit servant Ariel, who casts spells on Alonsa and the characters Sebastian and Antonia. Philosopher Gonzalo is a consistently honorable and loyal friend.
Genderson's Tempest is aided by Isadora Duncan-like choreography by Valerie Durham, with music composed by her husband, James Durham. The total production is enhanced immeasurably by Lynne Wilson's exquisite set, filled with stone arches and lifelike foliage, and by Nikki Gerbasi's excellent costumes. Genderson has assembled a stellar cast headed by brilliant Shakespearean actress Maud Gleason, who is given excellent support by several gifted players.
Classical symphonic-like atmospheric music that evokes a storm opens the play, with five dancers moving to suggest a momentous storm, their cape-like sleeves billowing in the slightest breeze. The dancers move a large swath of navy blue chiffonlike fabric to simulate the swelling sea.
Marking his sixth Summer Garden Shakespeare production, actor Larry Richman lends his professionalism and credibility to the role of good and honorable Gonzalo, whose opening lines set the scene and closing ones sum up the play at its conclusion.
In the leading role of Prosper, Gleason gives a performance to delight the most demanding Shakespeare enthusiast. Her lines are always precisely articulated and invested with feeling. An actress of power who also has a dancer's grace, Gleason commands attention even without speaking. She can be imperious, regal, nurturing and mercurial with rapidly shifting moods. Gleason can cast a spell with power and grace and she can roar with a fury as intense as any man's. This is Gleason's third Summer Garden Shakespeare production.
Prosper's lovely daughter Miranda is well played by Emily Gerbasi on Saturday and Sunday, with Genna Davidson in the role Thursday and Friday. Gerbasi's Miranda is a lovely romantic figure who exhibits great chemistry with Ferdinand, expertly played by attractive actor Bryan Richard Deehring.
Holding her own with Gleason is young Elena Crall, a gifted singer/dancer/actor who is enchanting as Ariel. An excellent dancer, Crall moves beautifully, is the best singer in the cast and is fully engaged in the drama, making her every line understandable. She invests the part with a spirit that matches Gleason's.
As Trinculo, Josh Riffle deserves high praise for coming in to replace the ailing actor originally cast in the part.
The Tempest continues Thursdays through Sundays through July 30. For reservations call 410-268-9212 or visit www.summergarden.com.