Review: ‘The Tempest’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a colorful, spirited spectacle. Co-directed by Donald Hicken and Sally Boyett, The Tempest is performed outdoors, in the gardens of the historic Charles Carroll House. It combines talented acting, directing, choreography, and lighting with a beautiful setting for a night of wonderful theater, with magic, romance, and revenge.

The Tempest at Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Brian MacDonald radiates power and authority as Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan turned sorcerer and ruler of the island. Even when not speaking, he hovers in the background, directing events and watching his plans fall into action. He’s used to being obeyed: his tone with Caliban (John Bellomo) is full of disgust and threats, while with Ariel (Laura Rocklyn), it’s commanding with a touch of admiration for her loyalty. His final speech is quietly, powerfully touching. Watching him is spellbinding.

Olivia Ercolano brings youthful innocence to the role of Miranda, Prospero’s daughter. The sadness in hearing her father’s woeful story shows in her face and voice; she kneels towards him when exclaiming “What trouble I was to you then!” She and MacDonald have wonderful chemistry, bringing out his tenderness and love. There is a sweetness to her relationship with Ferdinand (Jurdan JC Payne). Payne brings a joyful eagerness to the young man separated from his family. He is clearly smitten with Miranda on first meeting her, and she feels the same. They outstretch their hands towards each other. It’s almost enough to melt even Prospero’s heart.

John Bellomo is both angry and pathetic as Caliban, Prospero’s rebellious, monstrous servant. He frequently crawls onstage, moaning and yelling. Bruises covering his body, he hurls abuse at Prospero and Miranda, full of lust and rage. His struggle with MacDonald leads to a beautifully choreographed and tense fight scene. His sudden love for liquor is funny and sad at the same time; getting down on his knees to Stefano (Tony Tsendeas), he pledges loyalty to the owner of the bottle, changing one master for another. He plays the savage brute inside and out.

Laura Rocklyn brings the supernatural element to the play, as Ariel. With Jackie Madejski and Elizabeth Colandene accompanying her as spirits, she glides around the stage, performing all sorts of magical feats. Full of passion and enthusiasm, her devotion to Prospero, and her love for her work, is evident. Only once is her tone harsh towards her master. Her aspect changes depending on her task, from charming and seductive to menacing and fearsome, sometimes from moment to moment. She and the spirits carry blue streamers that are constantly spinning, almost hypnotically, as, crouching low to the ground, they stalk the other characters. The spirits growl and click, utterly inhuman in an incredible performance.

The Tempest at Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Ian Charles as Trinculo and Tony Tsendeas as Stefano are the comic relief to the play. Tsendeas plays the role of drunken fool perfectly, staggering onstage carrying a homemade cask and singing. He proves a benevolent master to Caliban, approaching the monster and sharing his cask. He slowly leads the group onward towards the possibility of power. Charles is much more apprehensive about Caliban, especially after the monster grabs him by the neck and hurls him to the ground. The first meeting between Trinculo, Stefano, and Caliban is played with hilarious physical comedy, involving limbs and a tarp. They give the audience many laughs.

Dexter Hamlett plays Gonzalo, a courtier to the nobles, with eagerness and kindness. When speaking of the utopian possibilities for the island, his enthusiasm is infectious. He brings stability to the shipwrecked nobles, and gets a joyous embrace from Prospero.

Frank Mancino brings a quiet dignity to Alonso, the king of Naples. Although not as colorful or dramatic as some of the other characters, he plays the straight man, allowing their personalities to shine through. His most powerful performance comes at the end, when he faces his past misdeeds. Mancino plays it with quiet strength, making him a sympathetic character.

Steve Polite and Bill Dennison play Sebastian and Antonio respectively, two wicked nobles. Their words dripping with cynicism and sarcasm; they both give off slightly menacing airs. At one point, they draw their swords, taking advantage of weakness to attempt something treacherous.

Lighting Designer Adam Mendelson does wonderfully inventive work, creating lightning storms, multicolored flashes, and other effects when Prospero or Ariel use their magic. They help enhance the drama and add a supernatural tone to the play. It’s extremely effective.

Sally Boyett adds to the special effects as Sound Designer, bringing in music and other sounds to help with the magical atmosphere. During one scene, an offstage, otherworldly-sounding voice gives the blessings of the goddesses Iris, Ceres, and Juno to the proceedings. All the actors are miked, so that their voices come through clearly.

The Tempest at Annapolis Shakespeare Company. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Sandra Spence has done a wonderful job as costume designer, making each character’s outfit appropriate. Prospero wears a gold cloak and wields a long, wooden staff, looking every inch the powerful sorcerer. Ariel and the spirits wear flowing blue dresses, while Caliban is bare-chested and in rags below the waist, exactly as a wild savage might look like. Trinculo wears a striped shirt, purple cummerbund, and green cap. Stefano looks quite relaxed in a white shirt, brown pants, and a red kerchief tied around his head.

Donald Hicken has done a terrific job as director, and Sally Boyett as co-director and choreographer. The actors make excellent use of the outdoor setting, appearing and disappearing through the shrubbery. They navigate around each other easily and gracefully, at times almost looking like a ballet. They deliver Shakespeare’s language in a way that feels incredibly natural, melding it with action that helps explain the plot. All the elements come together for a truly enchanted evening.

Running Time: Two hours, with a 25-minute intermission.

The Tempest plays through July 23, 2017, at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing at the Charles Carroll House Gardens – 107 Duke of Gloucester Street, in Annapolis. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513,  or purchase them online.

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