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The Tempest (11/01/1995 - 12/31/1995)


New York Times: "'Tempest' Deepens As It Goes Indoors"

Moving indoors has indeed produced a sea change in George C. Wolfe's wild "Tempest."

The superb New York Shakespeare Festival production, first staged in Central Park last summer, has arrived at the Broadhurst Theater with its power to enchant intact. Yet while this inventive interpretation of Shakespeare's last completed work remains a rare creature, the bold-stroke fierceness of its outdoor incarnation has been succeeded by a more civilized spirit.

There is a richer ambiguity at work here and an increased refinement of theme and character. If the raw excitement is slightly (and only slightly) less, this is more than made up for by a greater emotional eloquence that is guaranteed to draw tears from all but the stone-hearted.

In the first production, after all, Mr. Wolfe, the play's very shrewd director, was competing with the elements. In putting over his reconception of "The Tempest," with its emphasis on the gnawing anger bred by political rivalry and the uneasy, colonial bonds between master and servant, he often required his actors to scale up their performances and italicize their delivery in ways that would soar in the open air.

The words "slave" and "master" were hit like gongs by Prospero (Patrick Stewart) and his otherworldly assistants, Ariel (Aunjanue Ellis) and Caliban (Teagle F. Bougere), and the production seemed propelled by a rushing current of rage. The same points are made here, but with far more modulation. And the complexity of human relationships takes center stage.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Mr. Stewart's magnificent Prospero. In the Central Park production, he seemed to operate principally in two gears: flaming, anguished resentment and a conscience-stricken sense of moral duty. It was an incredibly powerful performance but short on shading.

Now, stripped of the ungainly body mike demanded for outdoor amplification, Mr. Stewart uses his multicolored voice to find new emotional and intellectual tones. The magician's conflicted pain is rendered more delicately, and it seems to come from more sources: his love for the isolated, scholarly life in his provisional Eden is clearer, and when he bids farewell to "rough magic," there's a gentle air of nostalgia that makes the soliloquy doubly affecting.

The actor still flares up sublimely, but less often and to more telling effect. One is acutely aware of the toll Prospero's score-settling labors take. By the final scene, he is indeed a frayed, depleted mortal, yet his palpable exhaustion is every bit as compelling as his earlier strength.

There is also an enhanced, awkward sweetness in Prospero's dealings with his daughter, Miranda (the delightful Carrie Preston), as he prepares to lose her to marriage. Even better, Ms. Ellis, who this summer seemed to have only a strained, earth-bound acquaintance with Ariel's airy language, has blossomed into a deliciously sly sprite, as fluid in speech as in movement.

Inevitably, there are losses. While Mr. Bougere has grown in ease and confidence as Caliban and Paul Whitthorne is a welcome addition as a luminously youthful Ferdinand, other changes are less felicitous.

Miguel Perez's stoical King is appropriately commanding, but lacks the quality of shattered bereavement of Larry Bryggman's performance. And though Ross Lehman and Mario Cantone, a stand-up comic, get their laughs as the drunken serving-man and butler, their lisping, squawking deliveries are pitched at almost exactly the same level, and one misses the ripe individuality of Bill Irwin and John Pankow.

The ingenious, wonder-inspiring stagecraft is almost identical to what was seen in the park. Any sacrifices in the loss of a real moon and sky (here represented by a ceiling scrim with projections of clouds) are balanced by augmented precision and visibility.

Riccardo Hernandez's slightly modified, deceptively simple-looking set still works wonderfully. The charms of Barbara Pollitt's masks and puppets are more evident now, as are the subtleties of the exotic musical score by Carlos Valdez and Dan Moses Schreier and the lighting by Paul Gallo.

And the crucial theatrical self-consciousness, which was sometimes lost in the park, comes across in careful detail. One is newly aware of the parallels between Prospero's magic and that of the production itself. The presence in the opening shipwreck scene of an onstage prompter with a copy of "The Tempest" is a reminder that all this visionary spectacle is spun from a base of words.

Living with this fertile work for the last three months, Mr. Wolfe, Mr. Stewart and their associates have found new intricacies and feelings in those words. Prospero may ultimately lose his powers of sorcery. But those who have brought his world to life have only increased theirs.

New York Times

Variety: "The Tempest"

"The Tempest" blows into the Broadhurst Theater a more streamlined endeavor than was on display at Central Park's outdoor Delacorte Theater this past summer. True, some of the carnival ambience has gone the way of June bugs and 100-degree heat, but it has left a focus on performance and character that more than compensates.

That's not to say the elements of spectacle in George C. Wolfe's production have been axed, only distilled to fit the contained space of an indoor theater. Barbara Pollitt's wonderful puppets remain, along with the beautifully bedecked goddesses on stilts,shadow plays and other visual treats that surrounded Patrick Stewart's star turn in the park.

The reason for the transfer, of course, is Stewart himself, that unusual combination of a true Shakespearean actor and popular television star ("Star Trek: The Next Generation"). He managed to fill seats at the Delacorte despite a stifling midsummer heatwave, and he'll no doubt do the same at the more comfortable Broadhurst.

Audiences drawn by Stewart won't be disappointed -- his baritone reading as Prospero is as impressive as ever, and the performance seems more nuanced than before. Most likely the nuances simply are more evident away from the outdoor amphitheater: Prospero's compassion and fatherly devotion now are as discernible as his arrogance and authority.

Other holdover performances benefit from the move as well, particularly Carrie Preston's Miranda, a jittery, comic performance with a charm more evident in the closer confines of the Broadhurst. She also benefits from the sweet-natured performance of Paul Whitthorne, new to the role of Miranda's love interest, Ferdinand: Their scenes together have a heart that elsewhere gets lost amid the spectacle.

Unfortunately, the move hasn't done much to better Aunjanue Ellis' Ariel or Teagle F. Bougere's Caliban, performances that remain problematic in conception and, to a lesser degree, execution. And audiences will be split over the campy, over-the-top performances of Mario Cantone as Stephano and Ross Lehman as Trinculo. Where John Pankow and Bill Irwin played these clownish roles in the style of commedia dell'arte, Cantone and Lehman seem to be shooting for the style of Rip Taylor. Their routines are shrill as often as they're funny.

Flaws aside, Wolfe's sense of theater is everywhere, from the percussive, high-decibel score to the Ariel-as-dragon scene that bears more than a passing resemblance to one of Tony Kushner's angels in America. With his indisputable flair, Wolfe turns "The Tempest" into extremely accessible Shakespeare, and Broadway audiences are likely to respond.


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