|Nate Dendy (Ariel) Joby Earle (Ferdinand), Tom Nelis (Prospero) and Charlotte Graham (Miranda) in The Tempest. Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey|
By that time Posner and Teller had added songs by Tom Waits and movement/choreography by the world renowned Pilobolus dance company to the alchemical mix of their innovative production. The result is a show that re-imagines Shakespeare’s romance while remaining true to the letter and spirit of the original. The story, characters and language are all Shakespeare. The ethos is that of a traveling tent show during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, reinforced by the idiosyncratic, honky-tonk songs of Waits and his partner, Kathleen Brennan (whose lyrics are the only words in the production not written by Shakespeare). Add an assortment of astonishing illusions created by Teller and magic designer Johnny Thompson and the entire enterprise is lifted to a new level of wonderment.
The play begins with the titular storm, conjured by the magician Prospero in order to wreck a passing ship full of hapless men (and, in this production, one woman). Prospero then explains to his astonished daughter, Miranda, why he has taken such drastic action. One of the castaways from that ship is Prospero’s younger brother, Antonio, who made himself the Duke of Milan by usurping the throne from Prospero twelve years earlier—and then cruelly cast Prospero and his little daughter adrift at sea, leaving them to die a watery death.
|Prospero (Tom Nelis) blesses the union of Miranda (Charlotte Graham) and Ferdinand (Joby Earle) as Ariel (Nate Dendy) assists. Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey|
Using magic and illusion he proceeds to stage manage a series of encounters that completely confuse and disorient the various survivors, rendering them vulnerable to his manipulations. But he devotes his keenest attention to the meeting of Miranda and a young man named Ferdinand. The son of Alonso, King of Naples (one of Antonio’s allies), Ferdinand is the first young man Miranda has ever met, and as soon as she sees him she has no desire to meet another; and he is as smitten with her as she with him. Like any concerned father, Prospero keeps a close watch on the couple and their quickly developing love for one another, making certain that Ferdinand has the proper appreciation and respect for his beloved daughter.
|Zachary Eisenstat and Manelich Minniefee as Caliban. Photo: The Smith Center/Gery Kodey|
And then he gives up his magic staff and books, says goodbye to the enchanted island that has been his home for twelve years, and prepares to retire to his original home in Milan—where “every third thought shall be my grave.” This being the last play Shakespeare wrote without a collaborator, some scholars have proposed that the poet had his own imminent retirement in mind as he penned Prospero’s final words. He knew he would soon be leaving his own “enchanted” world of the theatre, setting aside his books (scripts that contained their own kind of transformative magic) and returning home to Stratford, where he would live out his final few years in humble retirement.
But if The Tempest can be thought of as Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre, it is more importantly redolent of new beginnings, new hope, redemption and a renewed sense of wonder. Prospero’s every third thought may point towards death, but the play he has conjured celebrates life, and even a kind of immortality—the kind achieved through the perpetuation of love into new generations.
Love and magic are both transformative forces. Both are wondrously alive in this transformative production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
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