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Theatre review: 'The Tempest' is stormy, but ends well

By Ken Stern

Two outstanding performances of two fantastical characters are sound reasons for blowing into the Rexville Blackrock Amphitheater to see Shakespeare Northwest’s production of “The Tempest.” It is not an island but the outdoor theater is the natural setting for this play. Nate Wheeler’s Caliban scurrying out of the woods, snorting and babbling and Ariel (Maia Newell-Large), flitting and swooning as she darts on and off the stage and up and down the aisle, are way worth the price of admission.

This is almost a fairy tale and starts with a violent storm and a shipwreck. Reading the play or a detailed summary will help in following the many backstories. Prospero (Carolyn Travis, a bit low key last Friday, but with a great gold-trimmed black robe) narrates her tale to her daughter, Miranda (Arabella Rose). When Miranda was a babe Prospero was betrayed by her brother, Antonio (Raido McComas), and Alonso (Morgan Loftus) the King of Naples.

Prospero ends up on an island, which is magical, and masters magic and plots vengeance. She creates the storm to blow her brother and entourage onto shore. Prospero learns wizardry and seems to know all. She is master and manipulative of every relationship.

Listen carefully and closely watch the characters interactions, for this play is about relationships and thus about power, dominance, control, retaliation – and also love and forgiveness.

But more enjoyable than listening to Prospero’s plotting her vengeance is watching the winged and rainbowed-costumed Ariel dash and prance about. She is almost never still. More, she is invisible to everyone but the audience.

Caliban demands similar attention. He is also constantly on the move, slinking and crouching, grunting and howling. He is made more animated and vocal by his introduction to and fondness for drink, which he shares in copious quantities with Stephano (Jaime Mastromonica) and Trinculo (Derick Dong), the former a lost butler and the later a Jester. Both turn in fine performances as casual and constant drunks.

Pay attention to the plotting and alliances and the shifts in perception characters have for each other. Is Caliban a monster as well as a slave? Is Prospero only cold and calculating?

This is Shakespeare done on an almost bare stage and its foreground in front of the audience. The players are well costumed by Miriam Smith. Bjorn Anders directs.

The production and the audience are challenged by the troupe’s commitment to gender blind and age-independent casting. The summer season is a tremendous opportunity to be introduced to acting in a supportive environment but it is a challenge to everyone to ask so much from such young performers. King Alonso’s lavish costume and made up beard cannot disguise a small voice or timid movements.

And while 17th century actors were all men even as some were cast in women’s roles, gender switching without signaling cast changes may be especially difficult to follow for those not familiar with the plays.

The audience needs the consideration of directors and producers and have them improve this.

Still, praise the heavens for the gift of summer Shakespeare in the Pacific Northwest.

“The Tempest” plays weekends, rotating with “The Taming of the Shrew” through Aug. 12. Times and tickets:


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