Review: ‘The Tempest’ at Encore Stage & Studio

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Encore Stage & Studio closed their most recent production, Shakespeare’s comedy The Tempest, this past weekend. As the self-proclaimed “Theatre for kids, by kids,” Encore works with young local talent to fulfill their mission “to build life-long appreciation for live theater by involving young people in all aspects of theater arts — onstage, backstage, in the classroom, and in the audience.” And their hard work is apparent. This great young cast told the story of betrayal, sorcery, love, and, of course, a tempest with dedication and boundless energy.

From left to right: Prospero (Hannah Torma), Ariel (Samantha Grooms), Miranda (Isabel Paley), and Ferdinand (Nakyah Ciceron) Photo by Larry McClemons.

Shakespeare’s play follows the story of Prospero, the once Duke of Milan who was overthrown by his brother, Antonio, and set adrift to sea with his 3-year-old daughter, Miranda. The courtier Gonzolo pities them and supplies them with food, water, and Prospero’s cherished books of magic. Twelve years later, chance brings a ship with the King, Antonio, and other members of the court by the island that Prospero and Miranda have been living on, giving Prospero the opportunity to exact revenge and take back his rightful position as Duke.

Elizabeth Pringle did an excellent job directing this play. The show moved at a nice pace and required a lot of physicality, which the cast performed very naturally.

Other members of the creative team were Lighting Designer Ian Claar, Technical Director Kristen Jepperson, and Matthew Heap composed and handled sound effects.

The set, by Student Designer Annika Fagerstrom, was simple and effective, with an arrangement of large stones upstage, where Prospero worked his magic. The rest of the space remained open and assorted pieces and props were used to display different parts of the island where scenes occurred.

The show opened with the tempest, for which the play is named. Prospero, played with great command by Hannah Torma, is a sorcerer and has conjured the storm in order to force the people aboard the ship to shore. With the help the sprite Ariel (Samantha Grooms), Prospero has the ship landed safely out of site and the crew, each believing the ship to be destroyed and their crewmates dead, scattered to different parts of his island.

Grooms, as Ariel, flit lightly about the stage and obeyed Prospero’s commands in the hopes of gaining her freedom. Costume Designer Debra Leonard had some beautiful pieces in the production but Ariel’s was by far my favorite, with flowing fabric that added to the shows ethereal and magical feel.

Wandering the island after the storm are King Alonso (Sofia Hemmens), the King’s brother Sebastian (Zoe Fraiture), Prospero’s usurping, treacherous brother (or in this case sister) Antonia (Jackie Adams), and Gonzolo (Caroline Coleman). The group is in search of the King’s son Ferdinand (Nakyah Ciceron) who they believe was killed in the storm.

From left to right: Stephano (Tyler Smallwood) and Trinculo (Jacob Bowen-Galzeroff) Photo by Larry McClemons.

Prospero, believing his daughter Miranda (Isabel Paley) would be a good match for Prince Ferdinand, has Ariel arrange their meeting. Ferdinand, lost and thinking that he is the only survivor of the assumed shipwreck, meets Miranda and it is love at first sight.

Paley and Ciceron are adorable as the love-struck couple and none of the humor of the situation is lost on them.  One of the details that make Shakespeare’s comedies is the self-awareness the characters’ have of their own absurdity. Miranda has no memory of any other human besides her father so Ferdinand is the first person she’s ever met, making her praises of his perfection laughable. Adding to the joke is Prospero’s reaction to the lovebirds. Believing that love too easily won will not last, he pretends to reject Ferdinand and forbid their union.

And there can’t be a Shakespeare play without a fool. This role is filled twice over with the King’s jester Trinculo (Jacob Bowen-Galzeroff) and his friend Stephano (Tyler Smallwood), the King’s drunken butler. Bowen-Galzeroff and Smallwood are a hilarious duo, initially separated but they stumble about the island until they are reunited and joined by evil Caliban (Mia Fraiture). Caliban ruled the island before Prospero and his daughter arrived and is now their slave. He describes his plight to Trinculo and Stephano and convinces them to stage a coup, vowing to show them all the wonders of the island and work for them.

The play has various subplots and the complexities to be expected of Shakespeare, but the cast never gets lost in the words or mood of the piece. It was a joy to see the young performers giving such commitment and clearly appreciating the humor of the show.

Rounding out the cast was Caroline Assia, Claire Beasley, Susan Crumbley, and Grace Herberer, Fiona Kuiak, Jenna Payne, Quinn Sumerlin, and Sophia Voulgaris.

Encore Stage & Studio did a wonderful job with Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The organization does incredible work for the future of theatre and youth by infusing them with not only a love of performance but an understanding of the material itself.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

The Tempest played through May 7, 2017, at Encore Stage & Studio, performing at The Gunston Arts Center- 2700 South Lang Street, in   Arlington, VA. For tickets for upcoming productions, call (703) 548-1154, or go to their website.