“Tempest” Closes Season at Hartford Stage
By Tom Holehan
The vivid, opening moments of the Hartford Stage’s season-ending production of “The Tempest”, William Shakespeare last, great play, may be the most memorable of the theatre season to date. The rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero, has been exiled to an island for the past 12 years by his jealous brother, Antonio. Prospero has spent his days studying magic while raising his daughter, Miranda. When Antonio and his court are on the high seas, Prospero conjures a storm that sends the shipmates tossed about the ocean and onto his island.
Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak once again shows his keen visual eye and endless imagination in bringing to sharp theatrical life this difficult opening sequence. A sleeping woman under Prospero’s spell awakens to become the masthead of Antonio’s ship while a bolt of silky fabric completes the boat frame and an aerialist spins above. The effect is something only the theatre can provide and as your jaw drops so does your heart as you soon realize this is the single best moment of a good, but rarely great rendering of the Bard’s final work. And while it never quite lives up to that dramatic opening, there are still things to recommend and pleasures to be had in Hartford.
Daniel Davis is a sturdy Prospero blessed with a mellifluous voice who speaks Shakespeare’s verse the way you really want to hear it. But Mr. Davis rarely commands much authority in the role, settling back as a member of an ensemble that varies in strength. Shirine Babb’s lovely Ariel is a warm, sensual presence but we become distracted from her by the annoying addition of her three sprites who look like they escaped from a Dr. Seuss story. As the comic team of Trinculo and Stephano, Bruce Turk and Michael Spencer-Davis have many nice moments and Sara Topham (Miranda) and William Patrick Riley (Ferdinand) are ideally cast as the play’s young lovers.
As Propero’s monstrous slave Caliban, however, Ben Cole has been allowed far too many excesses. Resembling Chris Farley channeling Tor Johnson, this is such a broad, ugly performance that I cringed at his every entrance…and no, I don’t think that’s an affect the role should have on audiences.
As noted, Mr. Tresnjak’s strong visual gifts are a plus here except when they intrude on the text, which they do during the opening sequence and in the disastrous casting of Caliban. Later in the play they also disrupt the banquet scene which is overproduced with ballet performances and a spinning aerialist until you want to shout, “STOP! ENOUGH!”
Still, one can’t doubt Tresnjak’s talent or that of his technical team. Alexander Dodge’s breathtaking scenic design washes the floor and walls with Shakespeare’s words in the Bard’s own handwriting and they spill over into Fabio Toblini’s creative costuming while shimmering under Michael Chybowski’s magical lighting. There is certainly plenty for the eye to enjoy on the Hartford stage.
Though not a “Tempest” for the ages, this Shakespearean offering is one that will do nicely at least until Mr. Tresjnak’s promise of “Twelfth Night” next season.
“The Tempest” continues at Harford Stage through June 10. For further information or ticket reservations call 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is Chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.