Mandy Patinkin is, as he was anticipated to be, a virtual tempest in William Shakespeare’s fantastical tale of forgiveness and reconciliation. “The Tempest” begins excitingly with a ship being tossed about on a stormy sea. It is but one of the many artistic and practical considerations to be devised by a director and his designer, especially when working within a relatively small space and with the demands of a limited budget. We have seen big and splashy productions of this play in which the ill-fated ship is splintered, its crew and passengers flung into the waves, and with fantastical airborne spirits flying over the island where the fortunate survivors find themselves.
Despite space and budget limitations, there is plenty to awe us in the small-scaled but dramatically effective production, as conceived by director Brian Kulick and his set designer Jian Jung. A suggestion of clouds is painted on a platform suspended like a huge stiff sail and manipulated by ropes and pulleys. A loud crash is heard and the sky appears to fall almost to the floor instantly changing into a raging sea, upon which a decent-sized model of a ship is being battered. The platform then rises again to reveal the island’s sandy white beach, an effective prologue. The special effects are relatively small-scale in this production by the Classic Stage Company, but Patinkin’s performance, in the principal role of Prospero, is larger than life and therein is the perfect balance.
There is actually less plot than meets the ears in this comedy that seems to be about how much of your world you are willing to give up in gaining the world. The play reveals how Prospero, after unfairly getting the gate 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 some strange creatures. Surviving by his own wits and the wisdom derived from his only possession, a book of magic, Prospero becomes a student of metaphysical science and controller of nature on an enchanted land. With his devoted servants, the sprite Ariel whom he rescued from a witch, and Caliban, the monstrously grotesque son of the witch, Prospero reigns supreme. . .that is until the day the survivors of a shipwreck make it to shore.
It is doubtful if you have ever before heard Prospero’s pontifically philosophical words spoken with more bombast than the way Patinkin addresses them. Yes, Patinkin, looking quite imposing in his all white casual garb and sporting a neatly trimmed beard, also gives the words a wry and sly curve that smartly infers Prospero’s own amusement with his powers as a reclusive sorcerer. He employs the timbre and tremor of a baritone in want of a melody. But, after a tenuous beginning with more bellowing than eloquence, he settles down, rants with authoritative conviction and postures in a league with the better Prosperos I have seen.
Patinkin’s many theater credits are both formidable and laudable. They include a Tony award for his Broadway debut as Che in “Evita,” and a Tony nomination as George in “Sunday in the Park with George.” There are moments when he is speaking that one can consider this production as Tempest: The Musical. There are, in fact, some nice musical interludes.
Tall and willowy Elizabeth Waterston is quite refreshing as the perfect and peerless Miranda, who has seen no man other than her father. Just as charming is Angel Desai, as the spirit Ariel, who diverts as much with her darting about as she does with her winsome appearance in a white two-piece sun-suit. There is much to empathize with in the humanized lizard-ry of shaven head Nyambi Nyambi’s Caliban. Both Desai and Nyambi have their limbs artistically tattooed.
Stark Sands, who garnered a Tony nomination for “Journey’s End,” convinces that he is every bit the image and demeanor of Ferdinand, “the goodlier man” with whom Miranda falls for at first sight. In support, Yusef Bulos is endearing as the “good old lord” and philosopher, as is Michael Potts as the remorseful King of Naples, and Karl Kenzler, as Antonio, Prospero’s brother, the wicked usurper.
As 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 amusing shtick offered by Tony Torn, as Tinculo, the jester, and Steven Rattazzi, as Stefano, the King’s butler. I liked the simplicity of costume designer Oana Botez-Ban’s mainly white-on-white palette for the islanders and gold for the intruders. I also admired the way that the stage hands gathered up and removed all that heavy sand that was spread over white sheets during intermission. ***
“The Tempest,” through Sunday, October 19, Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. $70 to $75. 212-677-4210.
Forbidden Broadway Goes To Rehab
Instead of shedding tears because the final (18th) edition of “Forbidden Broadway” is ending its run on January 15 after a run of 27 years and more than 9,000 performances, go and laugh for 90 minutes. This hilarious, fast-paced, musically and comically-propelled revue under the direction of Gerard Alessandrini, who is also the creator and writer, spoofs Broadway shows with sharp, well-aimed wit. The script, the songs, and the even the costumes couldn’t be funnier. With its cast of four terrific singing and dancing performers, Christina Bianco, Jared Bradshaw, Gina Kreiezmar, and Michael West, with David Caldwell at the piano, this edition goes to town ribbing the rap-infused “In the Heights;” proving that “A Tale of Two Cities” is “The Best of Shows, the Worst of Shows,” and humorously exposing the Disney Corporation for its agenda to “Feed the Burbs.”
Impersonation is their forte. Bradshaw is a hoot dropping his drawers in a Gypsy-styled striptease in a send up of Daniel Radcliffe in “Equus.” Bianco and Kreiezmar battle it out in a boxing match as the stoned mother and belligerent daughter in “August: Osage Rehab,” and Bianco and Bradshaw give us the full falsetto as Jersey Goys (“Walk Like a Man, Sing Like a Girl”). That’s just a sampling. This is a show that is calculated to keep you in stitches. It will. ***
“Forbidden Broadway Goes To Rehab,” through January 15. $60 to $65. 212-239-6200.
The true story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic, who was responsible for saving the life of a dozen Jews during the Nazi occupation during World War II, has been excitingly dramatized by Dan Gordon. In the title role is Tovah Feldshuh, who is returning to the New York stage after her triumph portraying Israel’s Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony.”
Feldshuh brings an emotional honesty to a gripping story that will have you holding your breath from one scene to the next. As Irena, Feldshuh is first seen as an older woman, a miraculous survivor of the Nazi holocaust speaking to a high school class. Her story takes us back in time, when she was a young woman whose selfless deeds were to go beyond anything she could have ever imagined at the time and who history now sees as one of the great unsung heroines of the time.
After being raped by nine Russian soldiers when she was a teenager, Irena was put to work in a factory where her good work is noticed by the German high command. She is promoted to serve as a housekeeper for a high ranking German Major. While in his spacious home, she uses her cleverness and with willful determination finds a hiding place for a dozen Jews with whom she has been working.
The tension created by director Michael Parva is palpable, as Irene not only manages in crisis after crisis to keep the Jews safely hidden and cared for in the house, but also finds that she has unwittingly become the Major’s mistress. The production values are modest and the supporting cast is ably committed to their roles as various Germans and Jews. This is a very fine drama. ***
“Irena’s Vow,” through Tuesday, November 2, Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue at 25th Street (between Lexington & Third avenues. $65; student rush $25. 212-352-3101.