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The Tempest

a Magical Realism
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3379

SHOWING : May 07, 2009 - May 31, 2009



Shipwrecked after a violent storm, little do the survivors know that they have landed on an enchanted isle controlled by Prospero the magician and full of sprites and other extraordinary creatures. Prospero’s magic can do many things, but can it mend a family feud and set Ariel and Caliban free? Come and see what fantastical events will be.

Director Laura Cole
Costume Designer Anne Carole Butler
Production Stage Manager Cindy Kearns
Assistant Stage Manager Deborah McGriff
Alonso Tony Brown
Ceres Becky Cormier
Stephano Nicholas Faircloth
Ferdinand Matt Felten
Sebastian Andrew Houchins
Gonzalo Doug Kaye
Juno Rivka Levin
Ariel J.C. Long
Iris Kati Grace Morton
Boatswain Mike Niedzwiecki
Trinculo / Master of a ship Daniel Parvis
Antonio Maurice Ralston
Caliban Drew Reeves
Miranda Mary Russell
Cast Alex Thomas
Prospero Jeff Watkins
Adrian Clarke Weigle
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Oh, Almost-Brave, Somewhat-New World
by Dedalus
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Let me declare my biases up front. “The Tempest” is probably my favorite Shakespeare play. It was the first that I read “for fun” (that is, outside of a classroom assignment), and I’ve seen at least ten different productions and film adaptations, including one in Stratford-upon-Avon, England (truly awful), and one in Stratford, Canada (truly wonderful). I’ve always enjoyed its combination of fantasy and Jacobean vengeance, its mixture of primal innocence (Miranda) and calculated evil (Antonio and Sebastian), its over-the-top theatricality and understated subtexts and emotional connections. But what really sells this piece for me is its resolution, its choice of forgiveness over revenge, its assurance that mistakes can be acknowledged and forgiven, and its humanist celebration of the mundane over the phantasmagoric. I declare this bias now so you know my standards for this play (productions of which I always anticipate with the greatest of excitement) may be higher than yours, and my expectations stricter.

This is the second time I’ve seen “Tempest” at the Shakespeare Tavern, and like the first, it is skillful and moving with some very good (and surprisingly new) ideas and concepts, some by-the-numbers but still-good-enough sequences, and at least one misguided choice that almost deep-sixes the entire production full fathoms five.

First, director Laura Cole and her cast and production crew really nail the opening storm. I couldn’t tell if the tempestuous sounds were mechanical “live” gimmicks, pre-recorded enhancements, or a combination of the two, which is as it should be. Movements were tightly choreographed so wave-driven “lurches” were in the same direction at the same time. And, walking calmly through all, unaffected by the wind and rocking deck, a tattooed-and-red-lit Ariel (an outstanding J.C. Long!) sings his Latinesque spell with a monk’s passion, with a profane intensity that seems literally sacred.

Once the storm is over and we go to the island, Jeffrey Watkins as Prospero gives us the story, and centers the play with a dispassion that lessens as the swirling emotions of those around him calms into normality. Mary Russell as Miranda fulfills the comic potential she showed us in “Canterbury Tales,” and mines the role for more primal, wide-eyed innocence than I thought possible. She gives the character a childlike and immensely humorous spin that derive completely from character, and not shtick.

Then the royals come ashore, and we’re into “by-the-numbers” land. Maurice Ralston, Doug Kaye, and Tony Brown all give professional, comprehensible readings, but little else – there is no character development other than what’s scripted, no originality, no personality to any of these characters other than what these actors bring to every role they play. Still, they told the story, and did what was necessary to get us from plot point A to plot point B.

On the other hand, Andrew Houchins gives us a Sebastian who is nothing but effect, a preening, primping swish of a queen totally unconnected to his role in the plot, to the words he is saying. It’s as if he (or the director) thought that making Sebastian a caricature would be funny (it’s not) without any thought to its implication to the story and sub-text. If that’s the choice, fine, but it would work a lot better if it were carried through – some unrequited passion for any of the other main characters would have taken the back-story / sub-text into a totally interesting direction, thrown a conceivably believable spin onto his motivations. As it is played, though, it’s a one-note non-joke that adds nothing to our understanding of his plotting or motivations. It’s just a lame opportunity for this usually wonderfully actor to give us some unusually lame nelly-squeals and limp-wristed digressions. I hated everything he did.

Still and all, royals scenes aside, the play works very well indeed. Mr. Watkins and Ms. Russell capture a very fine father-daughter dynamic, the comic-drunk sub-plot (Nicholas Faircloth, Daniel Parvis, and a nicely bestial Drew Reeves as Caliban) cooks on all burners, Matt Felten gives the traditionally bland Ferdinand some spark and personality, and the spirits scene with its live music is, for once, actually magical.

To conclude, I can’t praise Mr. Long’s Ariel enough in this. Rarely smiling, he is called upon to sing (with a voice that seems to carry bits of his heart into the Tudor rafters above him), play several musical instruments, and convincingly make us believe he is other than human, trapped by the human world and his human savior. He makes a choice at the end which I thought a stroke of genius (and which I won’t give away here due its spoiler nature), yet which should be obvious. I have seen Ariels in thrall to Prospero, in love with him, resentful of him, and one who even spat in his face at the end. But this is the first time I have seen all those disparate Ariels in one seemingly whole creature, and, not to put too fine a point on it, the first time I’ve seen anyone capture this character with all his contradictions (and passions) intact. It’s a breathtaking performance that should not be missed.

As to the rest, well, sometimes the old world can propel a story as eloquently as a brave new one. At least it managed to avoid making this “Tempest” the lisping shipwreck it could have been.

-- Brad Rudy (
Ariel's show - special fx win
by uppermiddlebrow
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The Shakespeare Tavern occasionally comes in for criticism that its stage always looks the same. Original practice tends that way. Well, this Tempest starts out with a lot of rigging and a lot of stormy noise, and several other scenes also use fantastical lighting effects to transform the usual appearance at 499 Peachtree. I especially enjoyed Ariel's (JC Long's) set piece in which he wafts false hands aloft under a red glare. His quasi-mohawk hairdo is impressive, too, and the indignant attitude towards servitude.

What does not emerge is any overall message from the play. One feels occasional disquiet at Prospero's manipulations of all and sundry, but there's no reinforcement of that or any other theme, so it becomes simply another of Shakespeare's fantasy plays.

Other impressions from a Tavern supporter who believes that tough love is the best approach for maintaining / improving his favorite local company's quality:

The relationships between Prospero and both Miranda and Ariel are sympathetically drawn. Jeff Watkins shares a father's feelings feelingly. The forgiveness scene with the King of Naples and Prospero's usurping brother is less convincing, but dare one say that the playwright has not provided much to go on for development? It's the only time that victim and villains meet - and the denouement scenes in Shakespeare often seem a trifle forced. Mr Watkins occasionally adopts a slightly mumbled diction that is surprisingly difficult to decipher in one so practised at declaiming pentameter as he.

One could not hear a word of dialogue during the opening tempest scene. It's probably superfluous verbiage, but missing it might have scared some of the less Shakespeare-confident in the crowd.

Miranda last night was an understudy who chose to play the girl as a mall rat in need of a mall. Easy laughs but undercutting the poetry and innocence of the role.

Yes, Mr Houchins as the king's disloyal brother is damnably annoying with that nervous whinny. Sometimes the effort to stick out of the crowd should be resisted.

Stefano and Trinculo, the drunks, are most entertaining in this show, as Mr Parves was not when he robbed the gravedigger scene of meaning in last month's Hamlet.

The same could not be said of the carolling goddesses in a scene that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor.

But even with that silly piece of business left in, the pace sizzled and we were out of the house by 10 p.m., a rarity for a Tavern production of their house scribbler. The house was packed, many were new to the place, and the reception was pretty rapturous. That matters more than the little cavils here expressed: the Tavern brings Shakespeare plays to life for a diverse audience - never a mean feat.

“Let your indulgence set me free”
by OctoberSundance
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
When you’ve got it, flaunt it – and the ASC has it in spades. This month’s play, "The Tempest," allows the company to showcase much more than acting ability; a variety of mediums, from original music to henna tattoos, are on prominent display throughout this whimsical production. It sounds a little self-indulgent, but these touches are woven in with such ease and professionalism that they add sparkle without being showy. And, as the trials and triumphs of Prospero the sorcerer (Jeff Watkins) are already sparkly enough, the additions allow the show to feel almost magical at times.

For those who don’t know, canned and prerecorded sound effects are never heard within the walls of the Tavern. Everything, from the roar of the ocean during a storm to a gentle swelling of music that signifies two characters falling in love, is produced by cast members either backstage or lurking in the balcony. The opening scene, in which a shipwreck dumps a band of wayward Italians onto the island controlled by Prospero and his teenage daughter Miranda (a delightful Mary Russell), is particularly compelling in terms of both visuals and sound effects. From there, the characters transform the bare stage into a tropical hideaway overrun with creatures that would sooner plot a visitor’s demise than welcome him ashore . . . until they are offered something to drink, anyway.

J.C. Long steals the show, as he often tends to do, playing Ariel, a spirit bound to Prospero. He flits around the stage in nothing but a loincloth and some intricate body art, singing, scheming and altering destinies. Long also composed much of the music performed throughout the play and accompanies these pieces on no fewer than three different instruments. Drew Reeves is also very good and quite energetic (a gross understatement) as Caliban, Prospero’s slave, whose plan to overthrow his master is foiled when a pair of shipwrecked miscreants (Nicholas Faircloth and Daniel Parvis) introduce him to alcohol. In fact, just about every member of the cast is given an opportunity to shine. While some character choices may be over the top – the giggly, flamboyant Sebastian (Andrew Houchins) comes to mind – the actors have amazing chemistry and play off of each other beautifully.

"The Tempest" is billed as a comedy, but this particular production digs deeper and unearths the play’s more affecting themes, namely innocence, romance, forgiveness and salvation. The purity of the love between Miranda and Ferdinand (Matt Felten) sets the tone for the play’s epilogue, in which Prospero releases Ariel and Caliban from captivity and then begs to be freed from his virtual prison of sorcery, not to mention his literal imprisonment on the island. After granting indulgence to those who wronged him, Prospero asks the same favor of the audience. Watkins does a brilliant job of humanizing a character that isn’t always viewed as sympathetic; denying the repentant Prospero what he craves is difficult. But even if you don’t find the sorcerer worthy of indulgence, there is still plenty to feast upon in this production – so indulge yourself. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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