Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Shakespeare Theatre Outdoor Stage
Also see Bob's review of Evie's Waltz
This production straightforwardly plunges into the essentials of a complex and often difficult phantasmagorical story, asking us to accept on their face the magical events. By doing so, director Joe Discher enables us to believe and absorb The Tempest in the same unquestioning manner that a young child responds to classic fairy tales. It is in this manner that we see Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, cause a storm which shipwrecks his usurper brother Antonio; Alonso, the King of Naples; the latter's son Ferdinand; and various others in their entourage on the magical island where he and his daughter have long lived. With the aid of magical spells, the fairy Ariel and his deformed, monstrous slave Caliban, Prospero restores his position, brings about the romance of Miranda and Fernando, and reconciles with his brother Antonio. Not so incidentally, remaining very much intact is the hearty laughter provided by the comic trio of the King's drunken butler Stephano, his jester Trinculo and that Caliban fellow.
The entire troupe speaks with clear, non-declamatory, natural-sounding speech. Such manner of speech is a laudable but not easily attained goal of much American Shakespeare. Leading the way here is the delightful A. Bernard Cummings, who performs with an ease and contemporary manner which makes his Prospero exceptionally accessible. Rachel Mewbron brings an appropriate and appealing brand of spunk to the island bred-Miranda. Michael Ellison is a sweet, bewitched Ferdinand. Together, Mewbron and Ellison set off sweet sparks. Joel de la Fuentes is a lithe and sprightly Ariel. Billy Christ lends strong support as Alonso. The laugh-out-loud funny Jay Leibowitz (Stephano), Andy Paterson (Trinculo) and Mark Mineart (Caliban) make a sizable contribution to the smiles of the summer night. When the latter two become enmeshed and appear as one monster to Stephano, the scene's conclusion turns its laughter into enthusiastic applause. This scene is a highlight of Joe Discher's crisp, clear direction.
Although Charles Calvert's most playable wood planked set is not elaborate, abetted by the sharp lighting of Andrew Hungerford, it manages to provide some visual magic of its own. Alixandra Gage Englund's costumes airily and colorfully run an attractive gamut from peasant-like to commedia del arte to royal.
Take the entire family to see this delightful, rewarding and comfortably outdoors The Tempest.
The Tempest continues performances (nightly except Mondays) at 8:15 p.m. through August 2, 2009 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey Outdoor Stage on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth, Route 124 and Convent Station, Morristown, NJ. Box Office: 973-408-5600.