Review by Tulis McCall
19 June 2015
I know I say this EVERY YEAR, but every year it is still true. One of the best, most brilliant perks of living in New York is the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.
If the production is phenomenal, nature is a loving back drop. If it is a total dud you can set your sights on the birds as they close down their day. And of course there is always the occasional raccoon who steals any scene in which she appears. The show in current residence is The Tempest directed by Michael Greif. While it is most definitely not a dud, it is not a rip roaring attention grabber either.
Sometimes I do wonder if I am the only person who marvels at Shakespeare’s plots. How does a person place a hat on their head and become unrecognizable? Or in this case a how does a banished Duke of Milan manage to live on an island for 12 years with his only child, Miranda (Francesca Carpanini) and two seriously strange beings as company. The daughter is coming of age and, well, you get the idea...
As well, this is a difficult play. The entire premise rests on the shoulders of Prospero (Sam Waterston) who, being the banished Duke in Question, is given the enormous responsibility of telling the entire story of his and his daughter’s life within the first few minutes of the play. If he doesn’t grab us here, he doesn’t grab us period. While Waterston is game, he never quite hits the needed mark. In addition he appears more focused on his words than spinning a tale of poetry and charm.
Not only is the Prospero’s tale filled with poetry, so is his scheme. Prospero, you see, is a magician who has been up to some major conjuring. For one thing there is that Tempest that has turned the sea surrounding the island upside down. And in that sea just happened to be sailing the Alonso, King of Naples (Charles Parnell) but Prospero’s own brother, Antonio (Cotter Smith) who was responsible for tossing Prospero out of Milan in the first place. Finally there is the King’s son, Ferdinand (Rodney Richardson), who is the object of Prospero’s desires. Miranda has never seen another man before, so why not have her set eyes on the best and let nature (with Prospero’s help) take its course. With Miranda on the throne, his restored position in Milan will not be far behind. All this is laid out like a beaded dress slowly unravelling on a set so vast it just about swallows everyone whole.
You don’t really appreciate the stupor into which you have been enticed until Danny Mastrogiorgio (Stephano) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Trinculo) stagger onto the stage accompanied by Louis Cancelmi (Caliban). Suddenly you are awake and paying very close attention because these three are a terrific trio. Stephano and Trinculo have survived the tempest and are separated from the royal party. Naturally they are open to a bit of plotting and subterfuge. Caliban is the lone and terrible slave of Prospero. In short, he will show his two new BFF’s where and how to end Prospero’s miserable little life, and in return they will rule the island and claim Miranda. What could go wrong?
The rest of the play plods down the path of slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch… until everyone ends up in love, out of bondage, chastised, or vindicated. All IS damn well that ends well. The beautiful night comes to an end and we leave the park reluctantly, not caring so much about what we just saw as we care about how it felt to be held and cosseted by this little patch of nature.
A final note: The animals are happy to see us leave as well – the sound and special lighting effects in this production are beyond over-the-top (I am not referring to the beautiful live percussion). The cacophony and light blasts must wake the neighbors with the thrashing and banging. Is there not a law about how much noise an event can make when birds are roosting within feet of the speakers and flashing lights?
Seriously. Are we not guests in the Park?
"This "Tempest" is always lovely to behold and often illuminating about the patterns that shape this curious, genre-defying tale of revenge and reconciliation on theater's ultimate fantasy island. But don't expect the stormy passions that can move an audience to tearful wonder.".
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"The excitement plunges at least five fathoms when Waterston shows up in the lead role...The "Law & Order" D.A. is the show's marquee attraction, but he's also one of its greatest impediments, thanks to halting line readings that leach all musicality from Shakespeare's language."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News:
"Shakespeare in the Park is nothing if not wildly uneven. So it goes with the Public Theater's latest, "The Tempest," in which some of the acting is inventive and unexpected, and some is utterly mediocre."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for the New York Post
"Despite some thunderous sound-and-light effects, this plodding production lacks the power of enchantment."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...