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BWW Review: St. Louis Shakespeares' Production of THE TEMPEST

Shakespeare's last great play, The Tempest, has always been a favorite of mine, if only because it lends itself to intriguing stagings and imaginative re-interpretations with it's appealing mix of comedy, romance, and magic. And, with director Julie Taymor's film version about to be put into wide release, it's certainly a good time to revisit this material. St. Louis Shakespeare's current production of The Tempest manages to add a few new wrinkles to this time-worn classic, and despite being a bit sluggish in execution, is buoyed by some splendid performances.

Set adrift twelve years prior, and living alone on an island with his daughter, Miranda and the "monster" Caliban, the wizardly Properso is inspired to conjure up a storm of his own creation. In doing so he's able to magically manipulate its fury and wreck the ship of the very man, his jealous brother Antonio, who led the effort to have him banished from his dukedom in the first place. When his daughter Miranda happens upon a stranded young man named Ferdinand, who happens to be the current Duke of Milan's son, it's love at first sight for the both of them. Through incidents choreographed by the spells of Prospero, and the efforts of the spirit Ariel, love will prevail, wounds will be healed, and wrongs will be set right again.

Robert A. Mitchell delivers an outstanding performance as Prospero, replacing the usual bluster associated with the role with a more calm, cool and collected approach that really brightens up the part considerably. Betsy Bowman and Aaron Dodd are a nice pair of romantic leads, and Bowman's take on Miranda finds her as feisty and forward as she is naive, deftly conveying the innocent nature of a girl who's been raised and educated solely by her father for the past twelve years. Dodd is affable and sincere as the young prince Ferdinand who gets more than he bargained for when he falls in love with the spirited lass. Michael Juncal is intense and postively feral as the brutish Caliban.

Standouts in support include: Bradley Behrmann as the treacherous Sebastian; Michael Juncal in an intense and feral performance as the brutish Caliban; Tim Kidwell as the more reasonably-minded Gonzalo; and Emily Baker, Macia Noorman, Jenn Bock and Katie Puglisi essentially playing a four-pronged version of Ariel, although Baker handles the majority of the dialogue and they're each given different spirit names. This is the one major innovation, and it allows them to carry out Properso's wishes with considerable efficiency.

Jerry Vogel's direction is generally well done, especially with regards to the acting, but the overall pace is far too stately and lethargic, allowing the action to slow down to a crawl at times. Cristie Johnston's scenic design neatly recreates the tropical island setting, but the opening scene, with the Duke's ship being tossed by the storm that Prospero conjures up, relies too much on the audience's imagination, and would benefit greatly from even a handful of nautical props, or perhaps some kind of projected image to aid in the suggestion of the action that is occurring. Jaime Zayas contributes a dramatic and effective lighting scheme, and sound designer Jeff Roberts has compiled a collection of spooky music and sound effects to set the mood. Michelle Friedman Siler's costumes complete the picture, and display an eclectic touch, in particular with the choices made for Properso's wardrobe.

St. Louis Shakespeare's production of The Tempest continues at the Grandel Theatre through October 10, 2010.

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From This Author Chris Gibson