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Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Tempest
Theatre Coup d'Etat
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Scapin, and The Last Schwartz

Meri Golden
Photo by James Craig Hostetler
William Shakespeare's The Tempest is being given a brisk and totally enchanting staging by Theatre Coup d'Etat. Under the artistry of director James Napoleon Stone, the Bard's five acts have been compressed into 100 minutes of delightful story (without intermission) that cuts to the heart of the tale and its message of redemptive love.

Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan who, twelve years before the time of the play, was set adrift on the Mediterranean with his three-year-old daughter Miranda by his jealous brother Antonio, who then usurped his title. Alonso, King of Naples, was also party to this crime, but Alonso's virtuous advisor Gonzalo took pity on Prospero and Miranda and secretly stowed provisions on their bark to keep them alive until they made landfall. Gonzalo included with these a book of spells, which gave Prospero the ability to provide survival as castaways on a remote island.

The only other inhabitants on the island were Caliban, son of a witch who died in exile on the island, and the spirit Ariel, whom the witch had imprisoned for disobeying her. Prospero rescued Ariel, who now is indebted to the sorcerer. Caliban, half monster, half human, taught Prospero and Miranda how to survive on the island. In return they taught language to the creature, but keep him in a condition of servitude which has bred his deep resentment.

As the play opens, Prospero learns that his nemeses, Antonio and Alonso, are at sea passing near to their island. On board with Antonio and Alonso are Alonso's son Ferdinand, his brother Sebastian, his goodly advisor Gonzalo, his jester Trinculo, and his perpetually drunken butler Stephano. Prospero directs the spirit Ariel to create a wind that capsizes the travelers and lands them upon his island. The storm separates the party into several groups. Fernando lands alone, encounters Miranda—who has never, since age three, seen another man save the deformed Caliban—and they are instantly smitten. Trinculo and Stephano are met by Caliban, who goads them to join his plot to overthrow Prospero. Antonio, Alonso, Sebastian and Gonzalo are found by Ariel, who lulls all but Gonzalo to sleep, then, in a spirit voice, accuses them of their foul deeds against Prospero those many years ago, throwing the party into a panic. (In the original play a fourth group, the ship's crew, settle down to slumber until the play's end, but in condensing Shakespeare's work, Stone omits those characters.) The separate groups eventually come together in a resolution that befits one's expectations of a Shakespearean comedy.

Stone has done several things, beyond streamlining the The Tempest's narrative, that make this production particularly captivating. To begin, he has made his Prospero a woman, who is mother rather than father to Miranda, with extraordinary actor Meri Golden cast in the role. Replacing the father-daughter relationship with a mother-daughter bond, deepens Prospero's role as a nurturing force. Stone also made Ariel, written as a male spirit, into a three-bodied female spirit played by three actors. They move with balletic grace and speak, in turn or in unison, with a voice that gains power through its multiplied numbers. Alonso, the King of Naples, is also now a mother, the Queen of Naples, so when her son Fernando is separated from the rest in the storm force created by Ariel, her grief is a mother's grief, intensifying the feelings of loss and her regrets for past wrongdoing.

Stone has staged the play in the round with a ring of seats only one row deep encircling a large playing area which becomes Prospero's island, with the audience serving as the perimeter of the sea. This space has not a stitch of scenic elements upon it. Stone's design team—brilliant work by lighting designer Mark Kieffer and sound designer Forest Godfrey—have created elemental forces which establish the setting as clearly as any constructed set piece. Costume designer Chelsea Wren Hanvy provides ethereal-looking garments that seem almost ready to take flight for Prospero, Miranda, and the Ariels, an unkempt, earth-toned costume for Caliban, dignified-looking ruling class apparel for the seafaring nobles, and delightfully comical, haphazard ensembles for Trinculo and Stephano.

Meri Golden's deeply felt Prospero anchors the production. For twelve years Prospero has lived without material comforts or hope for her daughter's future, and only Ariel and Caliban as companions. Suddenly—just as we arrive—comes an opportunity to reverse her fortunes, and Prospero springs into action. Golden shows us Prospero's cleverness, her giddy anticipation of release from the island, her delight at her daughter's new found love, and her quandary over how to deal with those who had mightily abused her. Golden expresses the enormous range of emotions and complex thoughts lying within a woman who has had only her own mind for counsel these past dozen years.

Stephanie Ruas epitomizes virtue and innocence as Miranda, exploding with the joy of first love, and again with awe as she discovers the array of human lives in the beloved line "O brave new world that has such people in 't!" As Ferdinand, Clay Man Soo presents as a young man who has some knowledge of the world (unlike Miranda), but has had it all evaporate, as he experiences his passion for her with the exuberance of love's first bloom. Craig James Hostetler is a delightful Caliban, scowling and slithery in his life of servitude, then injected with giddiness at the prospect of rebelling against his master.

The three Ariels—Mairead Koehler, Kelly Nelson and Sophina Saggau—perform with utter grace, adding an element of sublime balletic movement to the staging. Madeline Rowe, as the inebriated Stephano, and Kevin Fanshaw as Trinculo are an uproarious comic pair whose physical buffoonery is one of the production's many pleasures. Sue Gerver conveys Alonso's despair at the supposed drowning of her son Ferdinand, and Brian Joyce depicts Antonio's inveterate evil when, after robbing his sister Prospero of her title, he plots to undue his ally, the Queen of Naples.

The Tempest depends on the forces of magic to propel its narrative. Prospero's escape from the isolation of her island cannot be accomplished without the talent of Ariel and the instruction found in the book given to her by Gonzalo. Prospero waited with patience for the opportunity to come, and when it did, employed her magic to reverse her fortunes, create a future for Miranda, and to redeem those who were beset by their own evil. The Tempest is an optimistic story, giving us hope that with patience and a resolve to act, wrongs can be righted and joy can be unlocked. Theatre Coup d'Etat's beautifully staged production is a romp that exercises our laugh muscles, swells our heart, and inspires our sensibilities with the gracefulness of its vision.

Theatre Coup d'Etat's The Tempest, through November 17, 2018, at Springhouse Ministry Center, 610 W. 28th Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets are on a sliding scale, $18.00 - $40.00. For tickets go to Theatre Coup D'Etat, go to

Playwright: William Shakespeare; Director: James Napoleon Stone; Costume Design: Chelsea Wren Hanvy; Light Design: Mark Kieffer; Sound Design: Forest Godfrey; Costume Assistant: Kaitlyn Larsen; Stage Manager: Alexandra Pozniak;

Cast: Jim Ahrens (Gonzalo), Kevin Fanshaw (Trinculo), Sue Gerver (Alonso), Meri Golden (Prospero), Craig James Hostetler (Caliban), Brian Joyce (Antonio), Mairead Koehler (Ariel), Andoni Marinos (Sebastian), Kelly Nelson (Ariel), Madeline Rowe (Stephano), Stephanie Ruas (Miranda), Sophina Saggau (Ariel), Clay Man Soo (Ferdinand).

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