Also see Fred's review of A Month in the Country
Prospera has two figures serving her. One is the spirit Ariel, played by Kristin Wold, whose performance is lively, gracious, eye-catching and sublime. This is the actress's twenty-third season with the company. The other is Caliban (Rocco Sisto). In this case, the slave, with silver/blond hair, is partly quite human and a bit savage, too. Ultimately, he wishes to be a better individual. Sisto (who was with the company when it was founded) is aggressive and audacioussplendid work here.
Shakespeare's Tempest is not a highly plotted work and it was one of his last plays. It does include some romance, as Miranda finds Ferdinand (Ryan Winkles), son of Alonso, most appealing. Of course, she has seen only a few menever. Eventually, we understand that she and Ferdinand will marry.
Prospera (written as Prospero) is the center of this sometimes magical play. Exiled, Prospera is bitter and Dukakis is, for quite some time, too subdued. A thoughtful person with a fine sense of social justice, she will forgive others for their transgressions, and her heart softens. Additionally, she liberates the loyal spirit Ariel, and Prospera intends to return to Naples.
Directing this show is current artistic director of the company Tony Simotes. With the assistance of set designer Sandra Goldmark, composer/sound designer Scott Killian, lighting designer Matthew E. Adelson, choreographer Barbara Allen, costumer Deborah Brothers and others, Simotes presents a multi-dimensional sensory extravaganza. This is a most physical production and it includes a significant amount of singing featuring Kristin Wold and other spirits who form a few lovely harmonies.
The director first knew Olympia Dukakis when she was his acting teacher at NYU during the 1970s. Roles now reverse. Dukakis, as Prospera, musters more volume and affect during the second half of the play and this is all to the better. For quite some time, she, playing the melancholic deposed Duchess, is clearly unhappy. One does not sense that Prospera is particularly wise or ethical. Later, she does transform and so do others.
Then there is Jonathan Epstein as Stephano, butler to the King. Epstein began acting with the Lenox-based troupe more than two decades ago and has played leading and major supporting characters in many of William Shakespeare's works. A personal favorite, to these eyes, was his Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Epstein has also appeared in New York, London, Boston, the Berkshire Theatre Festival, and this past season as Mark Rothko in TheaterWorks of Hartford's Red. Sometimes, one cites a play within a play; on this occasion, note Epstein's superlative characterizationa deft, studied, versatile performance. This marks Shakespeare & Company's Tempest as truly special. Stephano enters late in the proceedings, carrying suitcase filled with bottles of booze. In on the plot to kill Prospera, Stephano literally pushes around Sisto's Caliban as well as Trinculo (Timothy Douglas), jester to the king. Epstein appears to be absolutely comfortable on stage where his poise and unhurried pacing are estimable qualities. Not quite drunk but often drinking, the butler is up to no good but in most comical mode. There is nothing haphazard about Epstein's depiction and his specificity adds to one inspiring acting turn.
Within Simotes' hands, this is a full and rewarding production. Shakespeare & Company performs The Tempest at the newly renamed Tina Packer Playhouse through August 19th. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or visit Shakespeare.org.
- Fred Sokol