After a long absence, Shakespeare & Company returns to outdoor theater with a topnotch production of “The Tempest,” playing through Sept. 3 in the Roman Garden Theatre, in the heart of the company’s campus in Lenox.
LENOX - After a long absence, Shakespeare & Company returns to outdoor theater with a topnotch production of “The Tempest,” playing through Sept. 3 in the Roman Garden Theatre, in the heart of the company’s campus in Lenox.
It’s a fitting choice. “The Tempest” lives outdoors, as rival brothers must choose between revenge and forgiveness on a remote island where spirits sweetly haunt the night.
Give Mother Nature half a chance, and she’ll gladly play a supporting role. On opening night, as Prospero raised his staff to the heavens, a squadron of birds darted toward the stage and then disappeared. (I’m not sure if they’re planning the same cameo on the night you attend, but I’m confident Mother Nature has something in store that’s unscripted and just a little bit magical.)
Moments like that are a spine-tingling match with some of the Bard’s best nature poetry.
“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,” says Caliban, “sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.”
His words serve as a review, as well. This talented cast gives delight and hurts not. As the director of this inaugural production in the Garden Theatre (and the new artistic director at Shakespeare & Company), Allyn Burrows armed himself with a mighty cast. There’s not a weak link in the chain. They are seasoned performers of Shakespeare’s work, and they communicate the Bard’s complex text with ease.
At the top of the list is Nigel Gore. Audiences have become well-acquainted with his work during his 10 seasons with Shakespeare & Company. He’s ripened into a Prospero, complete with grey beard and a voice that can boom like thunder.
One of the prized roles in the play is Caliban, the earthbound mud-monster and servant to Prospero. Jason Asprey offers a Caliban who wrestles with the language, as this poor wretch might, but never loses track of the poetry.
As Prospero’s daughter Miranda, Ella Loudon sometimes gets lost in the anger of the role – it’s not always clear why she’s so upset – but she’s an earthy and resourceful Miranda. She makes you believe she’s tough enough to survive on this island, the only home she’s ever known.
Tamara Hickey’s Ariel looks a lot like David Bowie during his “Aladdin Sane” days, with a pompadour hairdo and blue face paint. Another Shakespeare vet, she helps guide the audience through the show.
Bella Merlin magically conjures up a lovable Trinculo. She engenders great affection, with the light touch and easy style she brings to this endearing, harlequin-tinged performance.
It’s in the supporting roles of Ferdinand and Antonio that productions of “The Tempest” sometimes start to feel a little threadbare. But not here. Deaon Griffin-Pressley and Mark Zeisler execute the text with precision, vital to keeping the whole thing afloat. The same is true with Thomas Brazzle (Sebastian) and Josh Aaron McCabe (Stephano/Alonso). No actor is lost on this island.
It’s too bad the beauty of the Berkshires doesn’t play a bigger role in this production. Shakespeare & Company’s Roman Garden Theatre is a bit oddly located, on the backside of a building that’s in need of a paint job and a new fire escape. The company admirably seeks to give audiences a true Berkshire experience, and it seems like there must be better options in their own backyard.
The play’s start time also feels awkward. During this run, performances of “The Tempest” begin at 5 or 5:30, which confounds dinner plans – with the show’s 2 hour, 30-minute running time, it could be close to 9 p.m. before you’re eating at a restaurant after the show.
More significantly, there’s something downright magical about a Shakespeare play that begins in twilight and ends in dark. This show is over before sunset, right when the night starts to get interesting. The start time is apparently a thoughtful concession to the theater’s neighbors, but perhaps, in the future, they can work on a compromise that takes full advantage of the night’s ability to enchant.
But don’t judge the success of this show by the beauty of its backdrop or the time that it starts. Judge it by the stillness of the patrons as Prospero surrenders his powers near the end of the play. That silence that you hear is the sound of an audience hanging on every word.