Theater review: ‘The Tempest’ builds a bridge from Shakespeare’s world to ours
Cedar City • The colony of Jamestown was established in Virginia in 1607; William Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest” in 1610 or 1611.
It is likely that Shakespeare had heard stories about the New World, that “brave new world, that has such people in ’t!” that the character Miranda alludes to in the play.
But it’s irrelevant what Shakespeare knew about the mysterious lands to the west, because in “The Tempest,” which recently opened at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, he creates a unique world of his own: a world where magic is an everyday event; a world “full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not,” as Caliban tells us; a world where Prospero, a man who has lived for years with betrayal and loss, finds the capacity to forgive; a world where that same man is inspired to be most human by Ariel, a spirit as insubstantial as the air; a world where, as Gonzalo says, “all of us [find] ourselves when no man was his own.”
The joy and triumph of USF’s production is that it brings that vibrant world to life in so many ways:
• B.J. Jones’ encyclopedic direction that is always in motion yet gives us time to savor the emotional moments.
• Robert Mark Morgan’s island paradise set with its palm trees, lush vegetation, and arch made of Prospero’s books.
• Donna Ruzika’s responsive lighting that isolates characters in intimate pools, then suddenly shifts to red at dramatic moments.
• David Kay Mickelsen’s incredibly detailed costumes, especially Caliban’s and Ariel’s bodysuits.
• Joe Payne’s haunting New Age music, which summons past and future simultaneously.
• Stephanie Ivers’ fluid choreography that enhances the masques that Prospero conjures and Ariel’s balletic movement.
Add to that the complexity of the characterizations: Each actor finds ways to individualize his or her portrayal and make it dynamic, but they all revolve around the power of Henry Woronicz’s Prospero. No fading old man, this Prospero is angry but kind, vengeful but forgiving, stern but loving. Woronicz is at the perfect time in his life to play this role, and his Prospero is simply superb.
Melisa Pereyra’s Miranda is feisty and inquisitive, and she and Jeb Burris as Ferdinand capture the spontaneity and exuberance of young people swept away by first love. Melinda Parrett creates an unworldly, inventive Ariel, staring intently at the human beings around her to try to figure them out. Corey Jones’ Caliban is an earthy force of nature, frightening, often grotesque, but also stirring our pity for his plight. The Caribbean cadence in his voice intensifies his strangeness.
As the drunken Trinculo and Stephano, Roderick Peeples and James Newcomb come close to stealing the show, shamelessly playing with the audience at every opportunity. Martin Kildare’s Antonio is the consummate duplicitous politician, and Michael Harding’s bullying Sebastian is a willing collaborator in his treachery. A. Bryan Humphrey is garrulous yet compassionate as Gonzalo, and Fredric Stone creates a dignified, discouraged Alonso.
This production has too many magical moments to describe in one short review. The best I can say is that—as his last play—“The Tempest” represents Shakespeare’s final attempt to explore what ultimately makes us human, and USF’s production does more than honor that effort. Its immediacy is the only proof we need that Shakespeare’s words will never lose their power to bridge the years from his world to ours.