Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
This world and its story belong to the powerful sorcerer and erstwhile Duke of Milan Prospero (Peter DeLaurier). Twelve years ago the usurper Antonio (J Hernandez) set his brother Prospero and young niece Miranda (Ruby Wolf) adrift at sea in order to claim the dukedom for himself. Father and daughter survived the ordeal and came to live on an isolated tropical island, with only the powerful spirit Ariel (Bi Jean Ngo) and misshapen wretch Caliban (also played by J Hernandez) to keep them company. When a ship sailed by his old enemies nears the island, Prospero calls forth a tempest to wreck their boat and strand them on shore. Completely at the mercy of his potent magic, the shipwrecked company must stumble through the obstacles, pitfalls, and plots Prospero sets before them.
DeLaurier is a bewitching Prospero, displaying resolute will and heartbreaking physical frailty. Wolf displays youthful confidence and excellent comic timing as Miranda. Graceful and grounded, Ngo brings a subtle darkness to the enslaved spirit Ariel. Hernandez is savagely bitter as the fish-human hybrid son-of-a-witch Caliban. Hernandez works hard to overcome his distractingly inappropriate costume, which makes him look more like a tropical Bigfoot than a creature of the sea. All the rest of Natalia de la Torre's designs are top notch. In particular, the costumes for high born members of the wrecked ship's company are lavish without being overwrought, featuring rich jeweled tones and intricate metallic accents.
It is easy to get lost in the delicious language and fairy-tale sensibility of what is largely considered the immortal bard's ultimate work. McMahon's deftly understated production also emphasizes the humanity of these iconic characters. I have seen The Tempest many times, but here I was particularly moved by the momentousness of Prospero's decision to break his staff and bury his book. Surely knowing when to stop, when to let go of power that has been hard won and rightfully held is one of the most difficult challenges any person can hope to face. I cannot help but wonder how much of Shakespeare's own struggle we are hearing in Prospero's wise words.
The Lantern Theater Company's presentation of The Tempest, through Sunday April 29, 2018, at St. Stephen's Theater, 10th & Ludlow Streets, Philadelphia PA. For tickets call (215) 829-0395or visit www.lanterntheater.org.