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THEATER REVIEW: “The Tempest” offers a bit of everything

I suppose the Old Globe’s Festival Stage, backed up against one of the world’s great zoos, offers a nearly irresistible temptation to incorporate strange sounds and odd sights into the stage proceedings. And a play that trades on magic and sprites and spirits is an invitation to the “anything goes” theory of theatrical production.

Director Adrian Noble has jumped on that bandwagon, choosing to broaden the cultural borders of “The Tempest” into a goulash. His composer, Shaun Davey, uses a percussion combo reminiscent of Middle Eastern, perhaps African rhythms, and Miranda and Ferdinand are seen in head scarves to receive Prospero’s blessing for their union.

On the other hand, John Cariani’s Trinculo looks and sounds like Pee-Wee Herman. The oft-shirtless sprite Ariel (Ben Diskant) has the hip-hop abs of a dedicated gym rat and the grace on stilts of a circus performer. Luminarias are seen at one point. And the Bard’s “pastoral masque” has become an odd hand-powered shoe dance, manipulated by several surgical scrub-clad spirits.

It’s an odd mishmash and questionable whether any of this serves the source material, but it does keep eye and ear busy.

You remember the plot, in which the treacherous Antonio (Anthony Cochrane) usurped his own brother Prospero (Miles Anderson), the duke of Milan, and set him adrift with his young daughter Miranda (Winslow Corbett) in hopes they would drown.

But they survived, thanks to provisions secretly provided by Prospero's honest counselor Gonzalo (Charles Janasz), and have lived for the past 13 years on a remote but enchanted island on which they were the only human inhabitants.

Now a storm at sea has brought the usurper and his entourage within Prospero’s grasp on his enchanted island. Which will it be: revenge or forgiveness?

The answer is evident as soon as we encounter among Antonio’s entourage his friend Alonso’s son Ferdinand (Kevin Alan Daniels), handsome and about Miranda’s age, and realize that their relationship will drive the plot.

Among the large cast, my favorites are Daniels’ Ferdinand (one of the few who actually seems to be playing Shakespeare), Janasz (who never disappoints) as Gonzalo, Jonno Roberts, who makes a sympathetic character out of the half-man, half-fish Caliban and Diskant, for those muscles and stilts and the most outrageous costumes of all. (Kudos to Deirdre Clancy for all the costumes, in fact.)

For my money Anderson, so good last year as George III, is miscast as Prospero. This is an angry man (at least in the first half) who has managed to take over an island, but his voice and aspect do not convey authority.

“The Tempest” is Shakespeare’s last play, and many see this as his farewell to the theater. This version is spectacular to look at, if a bit of a kitchen sink approach.

There’s something to be said for cultural inclusion. And perhaps I can be forgiven for (mistakenly) hearing Prospero say to Ariel, “You must prepare to meet the Taliban.”

The details

“The Tempest” plays in rotation with “Amadeus” and “Much Ado About Nothing” through Sept. 25 at the Lowell Davies Festival Stage, The Old Globe, as part of the Shakespeare Festival.

For tickets call (619) 234-5623 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.