Play: “The Tempest”
Group: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
Dates: October 7, 8, 9, 10
Tickets: From $15 to $25; contact 314-361-5664 or www.stlshakespeare.org
Story: Prospero, a sorcerer and rightful Duke of Milan, has been shipwrecked on an enchanted island with his daughter Miranda, after being set adrift by Alonso, the King of Naples, and Prospero’s brother Antonio, who usurps his brother’s throne. Twelve years have passed when Prospero learns that his enemies are nearby, and uses his wiles to shipwreck them on the isle along with several in their party, including Alonso’s son Ferdinand.
Ferdinand is lured to Prospero’s home by the singing of Ariel, a spirit beholden to Prospero, and falls in love with Miranda. Meanwhile, two ne’er-do-wells in the shipwrecked crew, Stephano and Trinculo, bond with Caliban, the monstrous offspring of the witch Sycorax who is kept in check by Prospero’s magic. They plot to kill Prospero, while he in turn arranges a meeting with his long-time adversaries.
Highlights: “The Tempest” is one of Shakespeare’s most poetic plays and presents as such an opportunity for rich theatrical imagining. In the case of the current production by St. Louis Shakespeare, director Jerry Vogel weaves a rich tapestry of fantastic delights, marred only by an often torturous pace that drags down the beguiling proceedings. Most often, though, it is a spirited and enchanting journey, from the excellent opening moments that focus on the title storm conjured by Prospero that brings his adversaries back within his reach to the myriad appearances by the ephemeral Ariel and her airy aides Ceres, Juno and Iris.
Technically, the presentation is outstanding. Scenic designer Christie Johnson’s whimsical set allows for serpentine-shaped rocks that exemplify the surreal landscape, while the tallest boulder permits Prospero and Ariel to loom above the action in observant fashion. It’s all stunningly lit by Jaime Zayas, who uses the backdrop as well as pinpoint illumination upstage to dramatize key moments.
Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are properly military for the rulers and winsome for Prospero and the island spirits, but most remarkable in the splotchy skin and other grotesqueries that consume Caliban. Abby Powers’ props add appropriate accoutrements for the goings-on, while the sound design of Jeff Roberts is an appealing show unto itself, from the bizarre opening chants to the atmospheric storm elements to the ditties sung a cappella by Ariel.
Other Info: A trio of outstanding performances leads the very polished ensemble. Robert A. Mitchell presents an accomplished portrayal of the magisterial Prospero, shaping the Bard’s language with the tenderness and expression it deserves while wryly orchestrating the action. Emily Baker’s Ariel is just quirky and ethereal enough to be richly original and creative, even for such a mystical role. And as Caliban, Michael Juncal demonstrates not only an ability to growl and grunt in netherworld fashion but to gyrate and contort his body uncomfortably throughout the show’s two and a half hours. It’s an alarmingly effective rendering.
Others ably contributing include Greg Lhamon as the repentant Alonso, Betsy Bowman as the idealistic Miranda, Nick Henderson as the moonstruck Ferdinand, Tim Kidwell as Prospero’s loyal friend Gonzalo, Eric White as the nefarious Antonio, John Cook and Tim Callahan as the loutish Stephano and Trinculo, respectively, Bradley Behrmann as Alonso’s venal brother Sebastian, Brian Kappler as the trusty boatswain and Jenn Bock, Macia Noorman and Katie Puglisi as Ariel’s siren sisters Juno, Ceres and Iris, respectively.
Rich, sumptuous, imaginative and wondrous, this “Tempest” is a tropical storm that lacks hurricane status only because of its overly slow tempo. Still, it’s well worthy of any storm watcher’s attention.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.