By William Shakespeare
Directed by Allyn Burrows
“Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone.”
In 2012, Shakespeare & Company produced an edition of “The Tempest” in which Olympia Dukakis transformed the leading role into its feminine equivalent. Directed by Tony Simotes, I found the concept essentially workable and even enjoyable. Simotes was the artistic director of the company at the time. Now, in 2017, the new artistic director, Allyn Burrows, has given us a new production of the same play with the lead role retransformed into a man again, played expertly by Nigel Gore. It begins to seem likely that, if the company changes hands again, we will see yet another production of this fine play, probably with a different identity idea – perhaps Penn Gillette doing actual magic in the role.
Gore himself is magical. He brings to the role a male ego that is nearly over-the-top in its quest for vengeance. Gore’s Prospero is a man first, an ego second and a father third. While less than fully sympathetic, he is truly charismatic and dynamic and, as a father, both caring and critical in simultaneously definitive ways. We hear him roar and nearly see him foam at the mouth with utter madness. We watch him slyly flirt with his servant Ariel and practically murder the child of his rival for control of his island, the monster Caliban. Gore carries off each variation in his role with never a crack in his demeanor. He has all of Prospero’s traits inside him to use when and as he needs them without a missed beat at anytime. This is a masterful performance of a difficult and tricky role, one in which the actor faces the challenge of being good and godlike and difficult and loveable and so very much at odds with his present, future and past that he fumes himself to near madness at times. Gore carries off every element without ever tripping into the wrong format.
In her first season with the company, Ella Loudon brings a strong tomboyish quality to Miranda, the daughter Prospero protects. She has freshness and a strong, dominant personality that pushes Miranda into the absolute realm of mastery. As she falls in love with Ferdinand, she moves from appetizing, half-man-like maneuvers into luscious femininity, bringing qualities from Shakespeare’s own age – when boys played the girl’s roles – into play. She has a bright and forceful voice, moves with gender-free grace, and wears rags and gowns with equal delight. There is an elegance to this character in Loudon’s performance that allows us to cherish her from her first appearance to her last.
As Prospero’s two servants, this production boasts two excellent performances by Tamara Hickey as Ariel and Jason Asprey as Caliban. He is a beast made barely human through the education that Prospero has given him and the sympathy he has received from Miranda, whom he now craves sensually. There is much of the animal about Asprey’s performance and it works in good measure for the role. Though his speech, as always, is somewhat distorted by accent and muffled by sloppiness, his major statements are all clear and easily understood. Asprey avoids the sympathy-call aspect of this role and allows his island creature to be as sloppy and slippery as a mink, as crafty as a raven and as sleazy as a wombat. Crawling, slithering or walking upright, Asprey’s monster is as riveting as anything played on screen or stage by Boris Karloff.
Ariel is a wood sprite freed from her tree by Prospero and trapped in eternal duty to him; Tamara Hickey plays the sprite with angular grace and makes her as captivating as she is a captive. In a gold-tinged body stocking and diaphanous blue chiffon, she is a vision to behold and is a realization of the magical imagery to come in the play. She is representative of the historically magical work that Shakespeare wrote late in his career.
Two of the mortals Hickey’s Ariel interacts with are played by Josh Aaron McCabe: the lowlife, drunken clown Stephano and the regal Alonso, the Italian king to whom Prospero’s brother Antonio pays homage. McCabe carries them both off with his usual concern for character. He moves between the two men with excellent timing and facility. Mark Zeisler does a nice job with the less-than-savory Antonio.
Stephano’s companion Trinculo is played by Bella Merlin in her Victorian costume. She is fun in the role and her presence makes the visual conversion of time into a reality as she wears the clothing of this later-1800s period into the most telltale way. She sings and plays the music by Arshan Gailus beautifully. Thomas Brazzle plays the plotting Sebastian with gusto.
Ferdinand, the prince who loves the urchin Miranda only to discover her real identity after pledging his life to her, is played by Deaon Griffin-Pressley. A handsome actor with a strong voice, he delivers the ardent lover’s cries and the mourning son’s wails with strength and honesty.
Govane Lohbauer’s costumes are wonderful, playing into the fantasy aspects of the play and the well-grounded realities of the period. The set by Jim Youngerman is masterful in this garden setting in the round. God provides the lighting and, at our performance, did a lovely job.
Allyn Burrows delivers a lovely production of “The Tempest” with well-defined characters and a production conceived and delivered with style and taste. The end result of his work and that of his cast and crew is a wonderful two hours and 20 minutes of vintage Shakespeare that is engaging and admirable for its unity and its entertainment. Try to see this outdoor production while you can. It’s a perfect introduction to Shakespeare and his home company in Lenox, Massachusetts.
The Tempest plays in the Roman Garden Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Massachusetts, through Sunday, Sept. 3. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, contact the box office at (413) 637-3353 or go online to shakespeare.org.