Shakespeare's comic storm

Local troupe misses on mood but stages an entertaining 'Tempest'

June 20, 2008|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Tempest opens with a storm at sea. Everyone on the ship is seemingly lost, but later, one after another, they all turn up on the same island.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company shows what happens next in an enjoyable outdoor production running through July 13.

The storm, the audience learns, was caused by a sorcerer named Prospero. Formerly Duke of Milan, Prospero was deposed years before by his evil brother Antonio, with the connivance of Alonso, king of Naples. With his infant daughter Miranda, he was sent to sea in a dilapidated ship.

Luck spared the two from drowning, and they found refuge on an island. Here Prospero studied books of magic left by a resident witch. With the powers he acquired, he freed a captive spirit named Ariel, gaining its help and loyalty, and enslaved the witch's monstrous son, Caliban.

Now, 16 years later, he is using his magic to regain his dukedom. He has brought his enemies and their retinues onto the island, and we see him achieving control over them with the aid of Ariel. He plans to consolidate his power by marrying Miranda to Alonso's son Ferdinand.

Miranda grew up knowing no men save for her father and the repulsive Caliban. At 19, she is ready to fall for the first new man who comes along. Thanks to Prospero's magic, it turns out to be Ferdinand.

Also saved from the storm are Trinculo, a jester, and Stephano, a butler. (Their occupations have to be learned from the program. The late-19th-century costumes designed by Kristina Lambdin give the audience no hint of who they are.)

The two men are urged by the vengeful Caliban to kill Prospero. The drunken Stephano will thus become king of the island; Caliban will gain his freedom. This is conceived as a comic situation, and Colby Codding (Trinculo) and Jamie Hanna (Stephano) make the most of it.

In another plot, Sebastian (Frank Mancino) conspires to kill his brother Alonso, king of Naples, with the aid of Antonio (Ben Fisler). Although meant to be serious, this situation too is played for comedy.

Three male characters become female in this production. Ashly Ruth Fishell is a pert and graceful Ariel. Adrian, a courtier (Rebecca Ellis), has hardly any lines, but Gonzalo, "an honest old Counsellor," is a major character. As played by Jenny Leopold, Gonzalo is an energetic and businesslike woman in the prime of life.

She and Ellis are charmingly and irrelevantly dressed in the style of 1912, with long, narrow skirts and what used to be called picture hats.

Wayne Willinger makes a splendid Caliban, a hairy, hostile creature with a necklace of teeth, resentful that his island has been stolen from him. Gregory Burgess is a sad and dignified Alonso.

As Miranda and Ferdinand, two young people overwhelmed by the wonder of first love Annie Grier and Shaun Gould get many sympathetic laughs from the audience.

Director Patrick Kilpatrick presents the show as a romantic comedy with a generous dash of fantasy. It is more than that. The script cries out for an ethereal atmosphere, an aura of wonder and illusion.

Prospero, after all, is playing God. In the end he forgives his enemies, and there is nothing more Godlike than that. Michael P. Sullivan's Prospero has authority but lacks any sense of the otherworldly.

The script calls for many effects the director does not attempt: spirits take on weird shapes; a banquet appears on stage and disappears uneaten.

The Tempest contains some of Shakespeare's best-known song lyrics, meant to be sung by Ariel and a few other characters. In this production some of the lyrics are recited, others sung in vague chants improvised by the actors. Real tunes could have added to the show's charm, and maybe given an opportunity to some local composer.

Quibbles aside, the CSC production offers an entertaining story, written by a master dramatist and vividly acted. It will provide its audiences with an entertaining evening.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents The Tempest tonight and June 27, 28, 29, July 4, 5, 11 and 13 at the Patapsco Female Institute, 3691 Sarahs Lane, Ellicott City. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays. The Friday, July 4, performance will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 28, will be a doubleheader: The Comedy of Errors at 5 p.m. and The Tempest at 8 p.m.

Free parking in the Howard County Courthouse lot on Court House Drive. Tickets: 866-811-4111 or Information: 410-313-8874.

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