BWW Review: WSC Avant Bard Conjures an Energetic TEMPEST
I've seen a lot of Shakespeare lately. It's a staple of the theater scene because it's relevant to nearly every time and place. In this spirit, WSC Avant Bard calls forth an enthusiastic, semi-contemporary version of THE TEMPEST, Shakespeare's New World piece predicting the drama of the American melting pot.
One could argue our country is caught up in a tempest of its own, violently tossed and blown, deeply divided. This TEMPEST broadly attempts to tie age-old themes to the present day and mostly succeeds in doing so. As Prospero, artistic director emeritus Christopher Henley magically summons an almighty storm designed to dupe his sister Antonia (Cam Magee) and King Alonso of Naples (Frank Britton) into thinking they've been shipwrecked on an isolated island. These two have kept Prospero from his rightful place as Duke of Milan, and this is the beginning of his revenge. Naturally, things don't unravel quite as Prospero has planned, including when his daughter Miranda (Allyson Boate) falls in love with Alonso's son Ferdinand (Miles Folley).
As Prospero's slave Caliban, Justin J. Bell darts and swings impressively across the stage, manically contorting his body. His interactions with Magee, double-cast as drunken butler Stephano, and Alyssa Sanders as jester Trinculo, are the right level of absurd and entertaining.
This production further underscores the female empowerment intrinsic to the play by transforming the traditionally male Antonio into Antonia and Alonso's plotting brother Sebastian into his sister Sebastia (also Sanders), as well as casting the sprite Ariel as a blue-hued trio (Emily H. Gilson, Camille Pivetta, and Reginald Richard).
The actors pace across Greg Stevens' creaky wooden set, built in large part from reclaimed and recycled materials. Appropriately, it feels as though we're on a ship with the characters, weathering a journey that leads to -- spoiler alert -- love and forgiveness.
We can only hope to realize those themes in today's divisive American storm. For now, there's Avant Bard's TEMPEST to call them to mind.
Running time: approximately 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission.
WSC Avant Bard's THE TEMPEST runs through July 1, 2018, at Gunston Arts Center, Theater Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206. Tickets can be purchased at avantbard.org/tickets or by calling (703) 418-4808.
Photo: Christopher Henley as Prospero in THE TEMPEST; photo by DJ Corey Photography, courtesy of WSC Avant Bard.