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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Tempest
Hartford Stage

Also see Fred's review of My Name is Asher Lev

The Tempest
Joshua Dean and Cast
Darko Tresnjak, concluding his initial season as artistic director at Hartford Stage, has been contemplating and devising his sumptuous production of The Tempest for the past year or so. With huge assists from his design team, Tresnjak's first Shakespeare here, visually resplendent, is filled with numerous performing arts highlights. The show continues through June 10th.

Alexander Dodge (set designer) and Tresnjak provide a space filled with Elizabethan script writings—all over. The action transpires before a map of the world at the rear of the stage. At times, Joshua Dean, a trapeze artist and circus performer, spins above the stage amid colorful banner-like fabrics. He is complemented by actors Jane Cracovaner, Annastasia Duffany and Jillian Greenberg, all of whom have trained at nearby University of Hartford's Hartt School.

The play begins with a shipwreck, one raised by Prospero (dignified Daniel Davis). He was banned from power by his brother Antonio (Jonathan Lincoln Fried) who conspired with Alonso, King of Naples (Christopher Randolph). Ariel (Shirine Babb) is an appealingly lively spirit with him and, in this case, she has a beauteous singing voice. Miranda (Sara Topham) is Prospero's daughter. The only men she has seen are her father and the very round, outrageous son of the witch Sycorax, Caliban (Ben Cole). Prospero's purpose has been to destroy a ship carrying his enemies.

There are attempts upon Prospero's life, and this rightful Duke of Milan (also a magician) needs time before becoming forgiving. One of those who survived the shipwreck is handsome Ferdinand, Alonso's son (William Patrick Riley). Others who appear include Gonzalo (Noble Shropshire), Stephano (Michael Spencer-Davis), Alonso's brother Sebastian (David Barlow), Antonio, and a most comic and pliable servant named Trinculo (Bruce Turk).

Costume Designer Fabio Toblini takes on the handwriting motif as he outfits spirits and others with scripting upon wardrobe. David Budries and Nathan A. Roberts have composed original music which enhances and entrances. This is special.

Prospero, a person of art and science, is ultimately loving. He watches his daughter and Ferdinand fall for one another. He does wish to restore himself to a rightful position. Finally, he frees Ariel. Prospero, in the end, is a man of virtue—and also contemplatively melancholic. Caught in crisis, this man changes and perhaps that is what Shakespeare's Tempest, not long on plot, is all about. It is a play focusing upon alteration if not transformation.

Tresnjak's multi-dimensional presentation begins in absolute silence as the audience enters the theater. Actress Jane Cracovaner appears to be asleep. She becomes the human prow of a boat when the storm begins. The very full production, including aerial acrobatics and pinpoint ballet, follows. I find it difficult to label the play, as some do, a comedy. It is, however, a work of regeneration.

Davis's Prospero, the central character, does not dominate. If he is controlling, he is also philosophizing. The disciplined actor is excellent with Shakespeare's verse. Ben Cole, another who received actor training at The Hartt School, is agitated and vengeful. Graceful, resonant Shirine Babb's Ariel draws attention to her presence each moment she is on stage. Babb recently distinguished herself in Long Wharf Theatre's

Macbeth 1969.

The thoughtful and spirited production bears Tresnjak's imprint. He (rather than a casting director) selected his actors and he located excellent young performers through The Hartt School.

The Tempest continues at Hartford Stage through June 10th. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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