Review Roundup: THE TEMPEST Opens at Shakespeare in the Park - All the Reviews!

By: Jun. 16, 2015
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The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest officially opens tonight, June 16, and runs through Sunday, July 5, 2015.

Directed by Michael Greif, the cast of The Tempest features Louis Cancelmi (Caliban); Francesca Carpanini (Miranda); Nicholas Christopher (Boatswain, Spirit); Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Trinculo); Olga Karmansky (Iris); Tamika Lawrence (Ceres); Danny Mastrogiorgio (Stephano); Charles Parnell (Alonso); Chris Perfetti (Ariel); Rodney Richardson (Ferdinand); Laura Shoop (Juno); Cotter Smith (Antonio); Sam Waterston (Prospero); and Bernard White (Gonzalo).

In The Tempest, Shakespeare's classic about young love, old enemies, and the eternal magic of storytelling, Prospero, exiled to a fantastical island, unleashes a churning storm to shipwreck the traitor brother who stole his throne and settle the score once and for all. But bitter revenge is upended by newfound love in this sublime masterpiece that proves we are all "such stuff as dreams are made on."

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: The enchantment at work here -- and enchantment there is -- belongs to a gentler order. As conjured by the director, Michael Greif, and a crack technical team of aesthetic sorcerers, this "Tempest" is always lovely to behold and often illuminating about the patterns that shape this curious, genre-defying tale of revenge and reconciliation on theater's ultimate fantasy island. But don't expect the stormy passions that can move an audience to tearful wonder...Waterston...possesses an easy and original command of the canon's language, reshaping it as a personal vernacular. But his line readings as Prospero...are sometimes bafflingly eccentric. His speech is punctuated with exotic pauses and emphases that make you think more than you should about where this wily old wizard is coming from...Mr. Greif...does well by the play's humor. He never pushes for the outsize vaudevillian bawdiness often found in alfresco Shakespeare.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "The Tempest" and Central Park were made for each other, so it must have taken a Herculean effort on the part of director Michael Greif to drain Shakespeare's most mysterious play of all its magic in his current outing for Shakespeare in the Park. Despite some thunderous sound-and-light effects, this plodding production lacks the power of enchantment...Despite his worthy aspiration to tackle the formidable role of Shakespeare's great necromancer, Waterston is doomed to play nice guys. He's thoroughly likable at the end of the play, as Prospero the benevolent healer who frees his slaves, matches up the young lovers and repairs the broken lives of the lost sailors. But he's less than believable as Prospero the raging master of the dark arts, who engineers the frightful storm at sea...Aside from that opening spectacle, there's little to tickle our fancy in this downbeat production.

David Cote, Time Out NY: Shakespeare in the Park has been so solidly enjoyable in recent summers-usually when Daniel Sullivan directs-that it's sad to find one's mind wandering in boredom, or eyes glazing over at a banal set. Such is the case at Michael Greif's glossy, static, weakly interpreted Tempest, a late romance that offers a director the chance to conjure equal parts magic and melancholy. Instead of either, we get half-baked visuals and Sam Waterston as a vaguely rabbinical exiled duke-turned-wizard Prospero...Waterston is his usual avuncular self, but the verse is wobbly. In fact, most of the elements waver here-except the steelwork, which I would have banished from the get-go.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: To see "The Tempest" acted under a night sky is like hearing "The Messiah" sung in a cathedral. Whatever the flaws of the production, the sheer rightness of the setting usually makes them forgettable, or at least ignorable, and you come away thinking only of the work...What is best about Mr. Greif's "Tempest" is its easy legibility-every line registers-and clear-eyed concentration on Shakespeare's theme...Waterston cannot rise to the rhetorical occasions of Shakespeare's verse, but his sincerity does much to make up for this deficit, and he speaks Prospero's epilogue with a warmth that "pierces so that it assaults / Mercy itself and frees all faults." It touched me to the heart...Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danny Mastrogiorgio are the excellent clowns, and Chris Perfetti's pale, androgynous Ariel is strange in all the right ways.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: The first of this summer's Shakespeare in the Park productions is restrained and straight-to-the point, but there are moments of whimsy -- mostly in the second act -- that give "The Tempest," starring Sam Waterston as deposed duke Prospero, its boom, thunder and roar. Considering that this is a play with magic as a big theme, director Michael Greif ("If/Then," etc.) has gone surprisingly straightforward and stylized in Central Park...Waterston...offers a Prospero who clearly hasn't had contact with another adult for a dozen years...Ferguson is having a blast...As Miranda, Carpanini conveys the enthusiasm of a woman who's never met a man other than her father and suddenly finds a dozen on her door step...the theatrics lifted me enough that I wished there had been more. Still, Waterston and his colleagues make plenty of waves here.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Braving the elements is a long tradition among fans of the Public's Shakespeare in the Park series, in which the show generally goes on rain or shine (with delays when necessary). And yes, Shakespeare's late-career classic opens with a storm. But this Tempest, directed by Michael Greif, is notable for its delicacy and gentle whimsy, and for emphasizing the play's romantic spirit. Mind you, the production...has a sturdy anchor in leading man Sam Waterston...His current portrayal seems to draw from depths of experience and knowing that couldn't have been accessible to a man that young. Always a distinctly rugged presence, with a brisk intelligence that can translate into brusqueness when called for, Waterston has aged robustly but without vanity. Rather than try to dazzle us with his Prospero, he mines the sense of humility that informs his character's righteousness. Embracing Miranda or addressing his physically and spiritually troubled slave, Caliban, or others who have thwarted him, this wizard always seems deeply human.

Steve Parks, Newsday: If past is prologue, then we might expect Sam Waterston, in his second go-round as the rightful, righteous Duke of Milan in "The Tempest" -- he played Prospero about 40 years ago -- to deliver a victory-lap performance. But Waterston, now 74, at first projects a pitiable weariness in the Public Theater's latest Bard revival in Central Park...Enhancing the magical mischief of "The Tempest" (late Shakespeare, circa 1610) are Riccardo Hernandez's seascape, Jason Crystal and David Lander's thunder-and-lightning fireworks, and Michael Friedman's enchanting music. Director Michael Greif's episodic approach at times feels as choppy as the seas, while other scenes are seamlessly harmonious.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Revenge bends to reconciliation right on cue in the Public Theater's open-air revival of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." But it's impossible to reconcile with this stubbornly unengaging staging starring Sam Waterston as Prospero in a production filled with missed opportunities and out-of-synch moments...the excitement plunges at least five fathoms when Waterston shows up in the lead role...The "Law & Order" D.A. is the show's marquee attraction, but he's also one of its greatest impediments, thanks to halting line readings that leach all musicality from Shakespeare's language. But he's not alone in making a hash out of the script. In the long first act, the most memorable moment is an actor performing an energetic backflip, not reciting one of the play's speeches...This staging by Michael Greif...simply lacks focus and cohesion...Yes the show is free. But it's also a reminder that bad shows happen to good actors, good directors and deserving audiences.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Shakespeare in the Park is nothing if not wildly uneven. So it goes with the Public Theater's latest, "The Tempest," in which some of the acting is inventive and unexpected, and some is utterly mediocre. Unfortunately, Sam Waterston's Prospero falls into the latter camp...the "Law & Order" star, who played his first Prospero for the Public in 1974, performs everything in the same halting way, suggesting a befuddled senior lording it over the help...Ferguson...brings a joyful ease to a clownish role. Unlike too many actors in this maddeningly bumpy evening, he makes the dialogue flow as easily and as naturally as lines from his sitcom...Francesca Carpanini and Rodney Richardson fare better as the young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand, but this show belongs to the outcasts. After an underwhelming storm, there's a beautiful bit of stage wizardry involving Ariel. It's a little late, but at least it leaves you believing in magic.

Matt Windman, AM New York: The Public Theater's annual Shakespeare in the Park season at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park gets off to a disappointing start with an ineffective, drawn-out, unusually cheap-looking production of the Bards romantic drama The Tempest...The acting ranges from decent to overblown and puzzling. Waterston...portrays Prospero like an angry, frenzied lunatic. Its as if he accidentally stepped out of the storm scene of King Lear. Juilliard student Francesca Carpanini makes for a graceful Miranda. Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) is also fine as a drunken servant who gets involved in a plot to overthrow Prospero. But isn't it time to give him a more challenging role?

Check back for updates!

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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