By Roz Friedman

At the Hartford Stage: The opening scene of The Tempest is one of the most breathtaking and cleverly conceived of any theatrical season. A young woman, wearing a slinky gold silken gown, designed by Fabio Toblini, rises from a prone position to a standing one. The back of her gown then flows out behind her to become the ship that a number of men are sailing on during a terrible storm. She is the prow, while swaths of materials stream down from the mast and a dancer/contortionist balances high above. Directed by Darko Tresnjak, the scene presages grand things to come. Sadly, it is not to be. POOR WILLY!


The Tempest takes place on an island, where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, a loving father, and his dutiful daughter, Miranda, landed when exiled by his power-hungry brother, Alonso, King of Naples (Christopher Randolph). Prospero is one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles. Daniel Davis is far too delicate in the part. After all, this wronged man has been living on an island, and should look like it -- but instead, his hair is combed neatly, his boots polished. When he delivers his lines, sometimes they are audible, sometimes swallowed. His most important speech that begins, “We are such stuff As dreams are made on”…and ends, “And Our little life is rounded with sleep,” is projected toward the back of the stage. Miranda is the lovely Sara Topham, who thankfully does not wear blue and white, but a sheer ecru negligee type nightgown. Not terribly flattering.


Father and daughter have lived for many years, among spirits, witches and a large book collection. Instead of a sandy beach or dark cave, Alexander Dodge’s circular, many layered set is covered in scripted blue letters on white. Not only is the set blue and white, but the furnishings and the costumes are made of this same material. I hope they got it wholesale! The worst use of this material is a one-piece jump suit worn by Caliban, the son of a witch, portrayed by the rotund Ben Cole. I know acting jobs are hard to come by, but Mr. Cole should have refused to wear this.


Anyway, helped by Ariel, a spirit played and sung beautifully by Shirine Babb, Prospero captures his traitorous family and entraps them on his island. Miranda has never seen a man or human being before, and falls in love with Ferdinand, Alonso’s son (William Patrick Riley.) At the end, when the whole family is reunited, she is overwhelmed, saying: “ How many goodly creatures are there here -- How beauteous mankind is! Oh Brave new world, that has such people in it.” This is one of the most touching pieces written by Shakespeare.


The most natural and most charming performance and closest to Shakespeare is Bruce Turk, a rustic servant, Trinculo. He almost erases the memory of the crude Cirque de Soleil character, who spins around at the end. The Tempest, at Hartford Stage thru 6/10.


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