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Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

The Tempest
Raleigh Little Theatre
Review by Garrett Southerland


Ricky Hall
Photo by Elspeth McClanahan
Never has there been such a master of theatre as William Shakespeare. Whether in his works of comedy or tragedy, he captivates an audience and, for a brief moment, convinces us to suspend our disbelief. Raleigh Little Theatre is weaving its own magic with its presentation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, produced in conjunction with two teen summer conservatories, Teens on Stage and Teens Backstage. The version they perform is a special adaptation that preserves essential dialogue and adapts quite a few speeches into musical numbers.

The play is set on a remote island where the sorcerer Prospero (a commanding Ricky Hall), the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda (the lovely Mercedes Ruiz) to her place in the court. Using skillful manipulation and illusion, and with the help of his enslaved sprite Ariel (the rightly sprightly Sofia Gabriela Alba), Prospero conjures a tempest to cause his rebellious brother Antonio (David Snee) and Antonio's partner in crime, the Queen Alonsa in this version (Angel Koshy), to believe they are shipwrecked on the island. It is here that Prospero intends to inflict his revenge. He doesn't, however, anticipate the love between Miranda and Alonsa's son Ferdinand (the delightfully comedic Colton Hartzheim). As in all of Shakespeare's comedic plays, several plots are weaved together, balancing the vengeful and romantic strands against a humorous one involving two drunkards: the King's jester Trinculo (the humorous Emily Miller) and butler Stephano (an equally funny Jessica Soffian) are mistaken as gods by the monstrous Caliban (a dedicated Will Taylor), who has been enslaved by Prospero.

Many have found the character of Prospero to be a representation of Shakespeare himself, with the character's eventual renunciation of magic a symbol of Shakespeare's farewell to the stage. And the true star of this production is Prospero. Ricky Hall, a rising junior at Enloe High School, shows a command of the stage and a developed understanding of Shakespeare's language. His voice is clear and a beauty to behold. I felt I was witnessing the early stages of a star in the making. As Ariel, Sofia Gabriela Alba provides a proper connector to all of the subplots and an energy and mobility that make the audience wonder if she is truly magical. Humor abounds in the production, and special recognition must be given to Colton Hartzheim as Ferdinand. In one particularly labored scene involving firewood, Hartzheim's intensity yields a grand payoff.

Under the direction of Patrick Torres, these young actors clearly have learned the value and discipline of theatre, and it shows in their work on and off stage. As part of Raleigh Little Theatre's Teens on Stage and Teens Backstage programs, these students attended classes while rehearsing the show, building and painting the sets, and assisting with costuming, lighting, sound and props. In addition to filling out the cast, they also serve as light and sound board operators, prop masters, and running crew. The production also features young people from Kidznotes, an organization designed to change the life trajectories of underserved students through free orchestral music instruction.

Though sparse, Jennifer Leiner's scenic design provides just enough to create each setting and, with the help of lighting design by Kaitlin Gill Rider, the audience's imagination can do the rest. Sound design by John Marcua enhances mood and scene; subtle touches like breaking waves in the distance remind the audience of the ocean surrounding this island. Patrick Torres and choreographer Jess Barbour have done a fine job staging the production to utilize the black-box space that is set up in the round. The staging does have some occasional drawbacks; one may have difficulty hearing what the actors say and sing if their backs are turned. This adaptation is abbreviated quite a bit from the original, running only an hour and a half, and it leaves some plot points underdeveloped, particularly the subplot of Antonio and Sebastia, favoring the humorous one between Caliban and the two drunkards. The theme of forgiveness takes the fore here, and how one must learn to forgive to find complete freedom.

Watching these young actors tackling the likes of William Shakespeare, and knowing that they have given up precious summer months to produce such a grand work of art, it is difficult to dismiss the importance the arts have in both our community and the world. Anyone who would dare to argue that arts education should be cut should immediately get tickets to see this production of The Tempest. For it is in the arts that we see our true selves; they are a mirror that reflects us all. And it is in this newest generation that the arts will survive and thrive. In the words of Shakespeare, "How beauteous mankind is! O brave, new world, that has such people in't."

The Tempest is presented by the Raleigh Little Theatre in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, NC 27607 through July 30th, 2017. Tickets are $13. Tickets can be purchased online at www.raleighlittletheatre.org or by phone at 919-821-3111.

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Adaptation/Music/New Lyrics: Todd Almond
Conceived & Previously Directed by: Lear DeBessonet
Director: Patrick Torres
Music Direction: Shane W. Dittmar
Choreography: Jess Barbour
Costume Design: Elspeth McClanahan
Scenic Design: Jennifer Leiner
Lighting Design: Kaitlyn Gill Rider
Sound Design: John Maruca

Cast:
Prospero: Ricky Hall
Ariel: Sofia Gabriela Alba
Caliban: Will Taylor
Miranda: Mercedes Ruiz
Ferdinand: Colton Hartzheim
Gonzalo/Ensemble: Chris Inhulsen
Trinculo/Ensemble: Emily Miller
Stephano/Ensemble: Jessica Soffian
Antonio/Ensemble: David Snee
Alonsa/Ensemble: Ange Koshy
Sebastia/Enesemble: Sydney Porter
Boatswain/Ensemble: Dane Swanser
Ensemble: Monique Fogg, Emily Freer, Emma Johnson, Skysha Jones, Aidan Morrison, Audrey Porter, Belle Walsh, Lexi Willbrand


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