Who would have thought that "Law & Order"'s gritty DA, Jack McCoy, the real-life Sam Waterston, would have a daughter as delicate, graceful and sweet-voiced as Elisabeth Waterston. This lovely actor is now starring with Mandy Patinkin in a new production of "The Tempest" at Classic Stage Company, and it is magical, which is what a play infused with magic is supposed to be.
Shakespeare wrote "The Tempest" near the end of his life, so it's not surprising that the main character is an older man who is looking upon his life from a changed perspective. Prospero, played in this production by the versatile Patinkin, comes to terms with his own destiny while at the same time holding the fates of others in his hands.
As the rightful Duke of Milan (pronounced MILL in), he should be planning for his succession, but his title has been usurped by his power-hungry brother, Alonso, and he and Miranda, his three-year-old daughter, are banished. The two wind up shipwrecked on a remote island, with only Prospero's books and wits to save them.
As a man accustomed to power and all that it entails, Prospero immediately enslaves the ignoble Caliban, takes control of the sprite Ariel, wresting them both from the clutches of the evil Sycorax, who controlled the island, and appropriates her magical powers. Living a simple existence far from the trappings of society, Miranda grows into a lovely young woman, never having seen another human save for her father and Caliban. The story opens as Prospero is telling the now 15-year-old how they came to be on the island and the history of his life.
All of this is in preparation for Prospero to set things aright. At the pinnacle of his mystical powers, he fantastically raises up a tempest that brings his bad-boy brother, Antonio, Alonso, the King of Naples, and Ferdinand, the King's dashing young son, to the island, as well as assorted other individuals.
Everything and everyone is now in place to bring about the rehabilitation of Antonio, the return of the Dukedom to Prospero, a tender love match, the freeing of both Caliban and Ariel from slavery, and forgiveness all around. But we are not to lose sight of the fact that this is a comedy. No one gets killed, attempted murder is thwarted, power is restored to its rightful owners, and all is right with the world. There's even the required comic relief scene with Trinculo and Stefano, two drunken servants who stagger their way through the island with Caliban as their guide. But it's not a ha-ha comedy.
Unlike Shakespeare's other famous, and more accessible comedies -- "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor" for instance -- "The Tempest," is very complicated and not for anyone unfamiliar with Shakespeare. In this one two-and-a-half hour play, he develops the themes of a life without man-made laws, social behavior without a reference point, the slave mentality, and the meaning of freedom. Heavy stuff this, yet it all becomes clear thanks to Brian Kulick's excellent direction.
He made no attempt, however, to infringe upon Patinkin's performance, which is unintentionally lots of fun. Once a singer in his synagogue's choir, Patinkin's Jewish identity informs his entire being -- and Prospero's as well.
One would have thought that Kulick would have said to him, "Mandy, this is 'The Tempest,' not 'Merchant of Venice.' You're Prospero, not Shylock." Using hand gestures that mimic Tevye, and vocal cadences that sound like a lead in to "If I were a rich man," this performance is nothing less than unconventional.
But Patinkin is nothing less than passionate, and his portrayal of a betrayed man and a devoted father is heartfelt and true as he comes to terms with the last years of his life.
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus
"While it brings no revelatory ideas to bear on the play, Mr. Kulickï¿½s production flows naturally to its beneficent conclusion."
New York Times
"Mandy Patinkin's performance (Prospero) in "The Tempest" is absolutely melodic - and not only when he bursts into song...Although his mannerisms are at first a little off-putting, he gradually settles down, proving deeply moving by the time his character achieves the peace that's so long eluded him." & "While not exactly magical, this is a "Tempest" that makes some pretty notes."
New York Post
"Paced with a steady hand by Kulick, the production is rightfully dominated by Patinkin's commanding Prospero." & "If the musicality of Patinkin's vocal approach to the text threatens to turn operatic from time to time, he usually speaks with clarity and always with authority."
"Mandy Patinkin gives a laboriously heavy-handed and arm-waving performance, thick of voice but thin on poetry. Then again, he receives scant support from almost anyone in Brian Kulick's staging." & "This may also be the only "Tempest" whose Prospero, however briefly, dances and sings. The language, alas, hardly ever does."
"Patinkin (Prospero) exudes glowering, simmering forcefulness even in tender moments with Miranda, who is sweetly portrayed with ethereal innocence by Elizabeth Waterston." & "From the first thunderclap to the final soliloquy, this "Tempest" is a triumph that will please all lovers of Shakespeare and good theater."
"One might carp about certain visuals or cringe from the slapstick comedy, but what a joy to hear every line enunciated -- and understood -- by a cast whose ears are attuned to the music of the spoken word." & "A pretty production this is, and an uncommonly musical one. But in important ways, it still leaves Prospero high and dry".