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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 13, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: `The Tempest’

It isn’t every year that we can say with assurance

that this is the year of "The Tempest." With its theme of

reconciliation, redemption, and forgiveness, Shakespeare’s final masterpiece

has undoubtedly hit a nerve and, indeed, seems to be serving a widespread

need. What with three New Jersey companies staging "The Tempest"

this season, including the McCarter Theater, I am fully prepared to

weather all the storms at sea and magic in the air.

Just this last July I saw "The Tempest" at the Chicago Shakespeare

Theater. What impressed me as much as the high quality of the acting

was the amount of money lavished on the production. What with dozens

of high-flying spirits (eat your heart out Peter Pan), a shipwreck

that shook the walls of the theater, and the splitting and falling

of masts and men plunging into a raging sea, this was a "Tempest"

to leave one in awe.

So why am I mentioning money and special effects in connection with

this review of "The Tempest" at the New Jersey Shakespeare

Festival in Madison?

Because storms at sea are never easy to stage with a sense of verismo

unless you’ve got lots of money to spend. Director Brian B. Crowe

did not, so the one that he has devised is virtually over before it

begins. Yet Crowe’s imagination and use of magical elements has still

produced an astonishingly lovely and lucid staging of "The Tempest,"

one of the highlights of an NJSF season that is the best in memory.

The spirits of the island may be earthbound, but they appear to float

and flutter about in ways that dazzle the eyes. With their faces and

bodies completely hidden behind sheer spandex-like garments, both

loose and form-fitting, the spirits’ movements are magically fluid

and malleable.

Costumer C. David Russell deserves praise for his dreamy

— almost hallucinatory — creations: note the flowing rainbow-hued

fabrics on the spirits on stilts in Prospero’s pageant, and Miranda’s

stunning hoop skirt made of green petals with matching parasol. Ariel,

everyone’s favorite sprite, even has the advantage of being a virtual

shape-shifter with often more than just one head leading the way.

The island is abstractly envisioned by designer Dipu Gupta to reflect,

through a huge window, the magical nature of a bare terrain, its rolling

hills and giant green leaves suspended without benefit of trees.

The play reveals how Prospero, after unfairly getting the gate from

his gig as the Duke of Milan and set adrift at sea to die along with

his daughter Miranda, is marooned on an island inhabited only by strange

creatures. Surviving by his own wits and the wisdom derived from his

sole surviving possession, a book of magic, Prospero becomes a student

of metaphysical science and controller of nature in an enchanted land.

With his devoted servants, the sprite Ariel, whom he rescued from

a witch, and the monster Caliban, the monstrously grotesque son of

the witch, Prospero reigns supreme — until the day the shipwreck

survivors arrive at his shore. There is actually less plot than meets

the ears in this comedy that seems to be about how much you are willing

to give up in order to gain the world.

You may have had the pleasure of hearing Prospero’s philosophical

words spoken before, and probably with more bombastic authority, but

John Curless gives them a wry and sly curve that smartly infers Prospero’s

own amusement with his powers as a reclusive sorcerer. Jennifer Ikeda,

making her NJSF debut, is a delight as the perfect and peerless Miranda,

who has seen no man other than her father. Although we never get to

see the face of Michael Steward Allen, as Ariel, the bird-like spirit,

his diverting darting about will keep your head spinning. There is

much to empathize with in the humanized lizardry of Gregory Derelian’s

Caliban.

Clark Carmichael convinces that he is every bit the image and demeanor

of Ferdinand, "the goodlier man," who Miranda falls for at

first sight. In support, Jim Mohr is excellent as the "good old

lord," as is Christian Wijnberg, as the remorseful King of Naples,

and Allyn Burrows, as Antonio, the wicked usurper.

Although I am never disposed to loving the obligatory dopes and drunks

that cavort through Shakespeare’s plays, I am inclined to bend in

my admiration for the comic offerings of Jeffrey M. Bender, as Tinculo,

the jester, and Dave Shalansky, as Stephano, the King’s butler.

— Simon Saltzman

The Tempest, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Drew University,

36 Madison Avenue, Madison, 973-408-5600. Performances to November

24.


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