BWW Review: THE TEMPEST at Seattle Shakespeare Is A Tempting Concoction Of Magic And Pure Human Emotions.
Seattle Shakespeare Theater gives THE TEMPEST a new edge and makes it sharper than ever. Filled with intrigue, love, revenge, plots, ploys, and magic, this show has something for everyone. With a fresh look and clever casting, Seattle Shakespeare makes this show its own.
Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, is stranded on an island with her daughter. She grasps her chance for revenge by using her magical powers to sink a passing ship that contains all of the people responsible for her exile, including the King of Naples, the son Ferdinand, and her sister, the current Duke of Milan. Prospero's daughter Miranda begs her mother to use her magic to save them. She saves Ferdinand, but allows the others to struggle ashore the rocky coast. Prospero has also used her magic to free the spirit Ariel who had been enslaved to a witch on the island. Her magic also ensnares Caliban, the son of the witch. Ariel and Caliban both serve Prospero, but only one does so willingly. Prospero brings them all together to confess their sins and set things right.
The Tempest has been told in various forms throughout the years. Director Annie Lareau had a vision for Tempest that holds true to the story while expanding our understanding of it. First, Prospero is played by a woman. And her treacherous sibling, Antonio, is also played by a woman. Seeing the rivals as sisters brought a new tension and pain of betrayal to the story. The most significant change made by Lareau was to cast not one, not two, but four actors in the part of Ariel, to be played at once, together as four incarnations of the same spirit. The result was mesmerizing as it allowed Prospero to literally be encircled by magical creatures and their melodic voices. When combined with all her other smart choices, everything just works. It is a complete and thoughtful vision that has something new and powerful to share.
Mari Nelson's portrayal of Prospero is everything you could want and more. She is powerful, intelligent, wise, shrewd, and compassionate. She emanates an air of the mystical while yet showing her human emotions and drive for resolution. She is commanding and majestic. Christopher Morson (Caliban) is beguiling. His physical transformation into semi-monster form leaves you wondering what is real and what is not. He moves with a playfulness fitting of an island creature. While his physicality astonishes you, his eyes captivate you and extract their portion of sympathy whether you are willing to give it or not. While talented actors cross the stage at virtually every moment, no one steals a scene better than Amy Escobar as Trinculo. This role is often rote and rather stale, but Escobar is beyond delightful. Her delivery is so on point that she kills me with a single word.
The true magic of the show lies in the artful interpretation of Ariel by Gloria Lee Alcala, Sydney Maltese, Sidney Rakowiecki, and Malex Reed. My first thought was that it would totally suck to be cast in such a cool part only to learn that you would only get ¼ of the character's lines as the part would be played by four people simultaneously. However, this was a case of addition by subtraction. The bonus of collaboration, of music and movement as a group, made them one of the most interesting parts of the show. I loved watching how they infused their own individuality while maintaining the cohesion of the group. Their voices were singularly good, but collectively great. Well done to all four of them.
Reed also served as Composer and Music Director for the show. The addition of music to the show added an entire other dimension to the mystical nature. The music reflected the different characters in tone and theme. Prospero's songs were most chant-like, almost magical incantations. The four-part harmonies of Ariel were ethereal. They moved and swept, challenged each other with dissonance, and resolved in resplendent chords. Reed's work was not simply reflective of the tone but was also used to foreshadow what was coming. I have seen music added to Shakespeare's tomes in various ways, but none more successful than this.
The Tempest is a tempting concoction of magic and pure human emotions. It satisfies the palette in both intellect and heart. Come for the timeless tale. Come for the new twists and interpretations. Come for the music and magic. Just make sure you come.
The Tempest is presented by Seattle Shakespeare Company at Center Theatre now through November 10th. For tickets or more information, visit www.seattleshakespeare.org.