Robert Leembruggan and Ally Raber (Photo: Ray Gniewek)
By William Shakespeare
Produced by Keegan Theatre
Reviewed by Gary McMillan
What suits the Nation’s Capital better than a comedy of political treachery? The Keegan Theatre’s The Tempest, a solid – if uneven – entry in the Shakespeare In Washington Festival, nicely melds the drama and comedy of the play, although it at times seems to alternate between King Lear and Gilligan’s Island – perhaps a standard deviation or two outside the typical extremes of the play. The mishigas of acting styles among the cast may be jarring to some, but the many, many pitch-perfect scenes redeem the production. And Rob Leembruggen (Prospero) is a wise choice to helm this production. His classical training lends a grace to Prospero that adults will appreciate, while he is also likely to captivate the attention and imagination of young people (“Hint, Hint,” parents and teachers) with a witty, wise and touching performance.
Two boats, approximately twelve years apart, set out for “a three hour tour, a three hour tour.” The back story concerns the millionaire (the deposed Duke Prospero) and his – no, not wife – daughter Miranda (Ally Raber) who are shipwrecked on an island with a monster, Caliban (Mike Gregorek) and a sprite, Ariel (Courtney Weber), the latter two beholden to Prospero’s magical powers and subject to his stern will. The play begins with the scuttling of the second ship which is bearing home King Alonso and his entourage from the wedding of his daughter. At Prospero’s bidding, Ariel brings the crew to shore unharmed but separated. The set design (George Lucas), sound (Timothy S. Shaw) and lighting (Dan Martin) make quite a splash in this opening, although much of the dialog was muffled and lost in the calamity of the shipwreck. Fortunately, it is still quite easy for those unfamiliar with the play to pick up the threads of the plot. The storm-tossed ship of the opening scene cleverly is transformed into the wreckage of Prospero’s ill-fated ship and current home. (I did wonder if the collapse of the mast went awry during the performance I attended or if it was intentional. The left-side cabin door was wedged open and twice I thought that Leembruggen unsuccessfully tried to close the door, but I’m not certain – actors, after all, are true magicians in covering problems with props. Also, when the deck is collapsed on one side for subsequent scenes, as part of the stage it seems a bit more raked than comfortable for the actors, adding some suspense as to whether a cast member might take a tumble or slide into center stage.)
Courtney Weber gives a quirky performance as Ariel, carrying the avian aspects of her Harpy alter-ego throughout, fidgeting like a giant egret (and curiously dressed in tattered whites as though she’s doing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in repertory without time for a costume change from one bird to another, so to speak). Mike Gregorek (Caliban) gives us another featured creature — part lizard, part frog — and whines and snivels and connives to good effect.
The occasions when Antonio (Eric Messner) and Sebastian (Jewel Greenberg) make sport of Gonzalo (Guy Palace), Prospero’s loyal counsellor, seem a little too contemporarily wrought. Here the inconsistencies I alluded to above are pronounced: some cast rendering Royal Shakespeare, some Seinfeld. However, when Antonio and Sebastian plot against King Alonso (John Porter), who himself deposed Prospero in favor of brother Antonio, they are deliciously conspiratorial: “Thy case, dear friend, Shall be my precedent; as thou got’st Milan, I’ll come by Naples.” … and deliver one of my favorite scenes in this production.
Tim O’Kane as Stephano and Jeremy Brown as Trinulo (Photo: Ray Gniewek)
Another favorite scene features the hands down crowd pleaser, Jeremy Brown as Trinculo, a mariner who apparently hails from El Paso, Italy. He keeps the audience howling with laughter during his merry, drunken romp with Caliban and Stephano (Tim O’Kane).
Ally Raber (Miranda) and Joe Baker (Ferdinand) provide the evening’s romantic comedy with all the requisite love-struck whimsy. Again, at times there’s a contemporary style to their mannerisms that is not quite in sync with other performers. Nevertheless, unlike the royalty off-spring in Into the Woods, this pair was raised to be charming and sincere.
Overall, Keegan Theatre’s The Tempest has a good ensemble cast with Leembruggen, Weber, and Brown bringing a notable humanity, mystery, and hilarity to their roles, respectively.
(Runtime: 2 hours, 25 minutes) Keegan Theatre The Tempest plays now thru February 17th at the Church Street Theater 1742 Church Street, NW, Washington, DC Tickets: $20 – $25.