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Spirits to Enforce
a Comedy
by Mickle Maher

COMPANY : Vernal & Sere Theatre
VENUE : Windmill Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5492

SHOWING : May 02, 2019 - May 12, 2019



Imagine the year 1610. Ah, what a time and place.
That’s when William Shakespeare wrote "The Tempest."

Fast-forward four hundred years to 2019.
It’s safe to say that a lot has changed.

In a secret submarine within polluted, radioactive waters, twelve absurd superheroes are engaged in their most difficult battle yet: telefundraising. The reason? Having lost faith in more traditional acts of public service, these heroes yearn to make art instead by mounting an epic production of William Shakespeare’s "The Tempest." Of course, in the art of theatre nothing goes as planned, spiraling totally into entropy as the heroes wonder how the world has fallen into such disrepair, and what their roles might be within it.

Vernal & Sere Theatre has been waiting anxiously since its inception to introduce Atlanta audiences to the awe-inspiring work of Chicago-based playwright Mickle Maher. We believe "Spirits to Enforce" is a perfect introduction. By utilizing such varied traditions as comic book lore, choral arrangement, and Shakespearean text, Maher creates an expansive world filled with music and movement and language. It is wild and hilarious and truly the stuff of dreams: an excellent fit for our company.

It is our pleasure to announce that this is the "Spirits to Enforce" REGIONAL PREMIERE.

Cecily Grey/The Page/Prospero Kathrine Barnes
Wayne Simon/The Untangler/Caliban Jason-Jamal Ligon
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


An Audience of Nobody
by playgoer
Monday, May 20, 2019
In what has become a Vernal & Sere signature move, you enter the auditorium to see the cast onstage, making repetitive movements to a musical soundtrack. On the upstage drop, projections by Vivian Nguyen and Michael Frederick show three portholes that function as ship’s clocks, the audience left one reading 9, the audience right one reading 5, and the middle one flickering as the clock hands rotate rapidly. The images in the portholes change occasionally. That’s our clue that the action takes place on a submarine, reinforced in later scenes by water bubble-like projections in the portholes.

The set itself consists of three rows of plastic school chairs with attached writing surfaces. Risers painted pink and rose ensure good visibility of the 12 actors onstage, five in the back row, four in the middle row, and three in front on the stage floor. Each of the chairs is a different color and/or style. Rotary phones on the writing surfaces are similarly varied, with some color coordination with the chairs. Costumes, designed by director Erin O’Connor, give pops of color. Set a PBS televised fund raiser in a universe where superheroes sit among us, and you might get exactly what the audience sees at the Windmill Arts Center.

There’s lots of overlapping dialogue as the 12 fundraisers make cold calls looking for funds to finance a superhero-produced/directed/acted production of William Shakespeare’s "The Tempest." The show takes us through the process of requesting funds, rehearsing, hawking ticket sales, and performing. In the process, it’s revealed [spoiler alert!] that the ordinary people making the phone calls are actually the alter egos of the superheroes themselves. The story is told in very fractured terms, but it becomes murkily clear that the action is taking place in the polluted waters outside the island of "The Tempest’s" action, 400 years after Prospero and the humans have departed, leaving the island to the warring factions of Caliban (the supervillain) and Ariel’s band of spirits (the superheroes). It’s all very comic, with interspersed bits of Shakespeare’s text. Lindsey Sharpless’ lighting design does a very nice job of highlighting individual actors when their lines are supposed to be the focus, since interjections or overlapping lines from other actors would otherwise compete for audience focus.

Ms. O’Connor has acted sometimes more as a choreographer than a director, interjecting unison movements into the text to create a kinetically and visually arresting series of stage pictures. That’s not to downplay the acting, for that’s on a high level overall, and each character is nicely etched in the performances. Each actor plays three roles (the alter ego, the superhero identity, and a role in "The Tempest"), with more or less contrast between the roles depending on the importance (focused stage time) of the character.

The actors are onstage the whole time, mostly positioned at their individual seats. In the top row, Sofia Palmero is stage right, giving a nice comic spin to her roles as Diana Blake, superhero The Bad Map, and Trinculo. She doesn’t have much to do, but she ably provides comic relief. To her left is Kellen Boyle, who provides the romantic heart of the plot, shy and insecure as Randell James, confident and full-voiced as The Tune, and coming into his own as Ferdinand. Center in the top row is Jason-Jamal Ligon as Wayne Simon, knot-obsessed superhero The Untangler, and most notably as Caliban, the stage equivalent of The Cannibal, an escaped supervillain who is wreaking havoc on the island as the superheroes are sidetracked by their play production. To his left is yellow-costumed Kasey O’Barr as Dale Clark, The Intoxicator, and Stephano. His roles aren’t large, but he has some nice comic lines. Leftmost in the top row is Megan Poole as annoying Rebecca Lloyd, overbearing The Ocean, and Gonzalo. She makes a big impression, tempering the general unlikability of her characters with personal charisma.

The middle row is populated with Katerina Eichenberger, Nicholas Blue, Kathrine Barnes, and Spencer Mumford from stage right to stage left. Ms. Eichenberger is the central figure, her alter ego identity of Emory Lawson soon giving way to her true identity of Ariel, the spirit who helped Prospero rule the island in the days of "The Tempest." The inability of Ariel to act convincingly as herself in their production of "The Tempest" provides the closest thing to a personal crisis in the play. Ms. Barnes does a very nice job of distinguishing her roles of Cecily Grey, The Page, and Prospero, while Mr. Blue is basically a non-entity as Brad Allen, The Snow Heavy Branch (who at least figures into a nice visual image, as he blows and blusters, the portholes filling with frost), and Alonso. Mr. Mumford plays Craig Cale as a more subdued version of his silly superhero identity The Pleaser, and takes on nice Shakespearean tones as Antonio, Prospero’s usurping brother.

The front row has Hailey Swartwout stage right, with an incandescent smile as Donna Adams and expressive hand movements as The Silhouette, who puts shadows into play as masque characters in "The Tempest," in one of the most intriguing elements in Mickle Maher’s script. Center in front is Onye Eme-Akwari, as Oliver Kendell, sweetly silly superhero Fragrance Fellow, and Sebastian. His part is a small one, but he does his roles up proud. Madelyn Wall has a larger set of roles as Susan Tanner, Memory Lass, and Miranda, which she plays from the downstage left position. Her interplay with Mr. Boyle is a delight, as Memory Lass finds it impossible to remember Randell James, while being enamored of his superhero identity of The Tune, and having to interact with him onstage as love interests Miranda and Ferdinand.

Overall, "Spirits to Enforce" could be seen as a triumph of style over substance. Wacky superpowers and Marvel-worthy supervillains provide the life force of the plot, and Ms. O’Connor’s direction ensures that the visuals of the production will stick in the mind of playgoers. But Mr. Maher’s gloss on "The Tempest" has more depth than might appear on its comic book surface. Vernal & Sere has produced a production that is as strange as any the company has done before, but with tons of entertainment value. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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