Arts & Events

Theater Review: 'The Tempest' at John Hinkel Park

Ken Bullock
Friday July 29, 2016 - 09:52:00 AM

'The Tempest,' Free Weekend Afternoon Performances, at John Hinkel Park Amphitheatre

Miranda: Oh wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,/That has such people in 't!

Prospero: Tis new to thee.

Prospero the Magician's admonition to his daughter's gushing, on the verge of their return from the exile of an isle like Bermuda was imagined to be, back to Milan, is as quietly telling as Hamlet's raucous self-rebuke carried out to the race, 'What a piece of work is a man! ... The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me , what is this quintessence of dust?"

Inferno Theatre's free, plein air weaving of 'The Tempest' 's spells in John Hinkel Park's old New Deal CWA Amphitheatre, dedicated to "cultural recreation" in 1934, hits so many of the "Coincidentia Oppositorum," the opposites of mood and humor on earth that coincide in the infinite, a Renaissance ideal, that picnickers may halfway imagine themselves on The Bard's island of spirits, tamed by Prospero's magic ... 

Or is Prospero himself a bit enraged like a beast over his exile, after having lost his dukedom, made a little inhuman by misanthropy, loneliness and a savage communion with animals and spooks? There are unsettling instants in Inferno's production that register his super-ironic bitterness in Michael Needham's dry, explosive laughter as he goes about his sorcery, those who did evil to him having washed ashore on his paradise jail, including his scheming brother Antonio (Ian Wilson), usurper of his throne. 

His daughter, Miranda (Karina McLoughlin), raised in the wild, keeps his humanity alive, and her budding romance with the castaway Ferdinand ((David James Silpa) shows Prospero's hand in what seems magical aggrandisement of who or what's in his power to be the means to wake up their own humanity, once out of palace, society, shipboard, as he's been himself for twelve years ... 

Another parallel tale, of the shipwrecked aristocrats—Antonio, Alonzo (Thomas Busk, who also strums a guitar), Sebastian (Trevor Guyton) and Gonzalo (Tenya Spillman, in one of several neat "gender-blind" castings)—who are "shrived" of their greed and murderous scheming by Prospero's feisty indentured spirit tricksters (Simone Bloch, Angela Ciandro, Fiona Melia—excellent all—assisted by musician-singer Vicki Victoria, who doubles as the Boatswain and as the ghost of Caliban's witch mother, Sycorax, a novel touch), rotates to the fore— 

As do the moments, almost asides, between Prospero and his spirit chief-of-staff Ariel—Emily Stone in a memorable, nuanced performance, including The Bard's songs beautifully sung to her own tunes), the other—almost!—human relationship he's conjured up on his island ... a magical forerunner to Robinson Crusoe ... 

And the clowns with Caliban—Jack Nicolaus, a brilliant, vaudeville Trinculo with Benoît Monin as Stephano, bawdy in a more redblooded way to balance Trinculo's Pierrot-like moments—and Valentina Emeri, a unique performer and marvellous mover onstage, as an androgynous, outrageous Caliban, who falls in perfectly with the other two in choreographed mayhem that's hilarious, yet verges on polyphony of skewed movement, as good or better as any take on this justly famous menagerie of zanies as I've seen. 

The ensemble's splendid together as the intersecting stories weave in and out, finally uniting in harmony, all with the direction of Inferno's founder, Guilio Perrone, whose expertise in Commedia is one of the underpinnings of this show's virtue, another being his design skills, a coefficient to his direction of movement and expression. (The storm itself, which opens the play, first indicator of Prospero's sublime anger, even before he reaches the stage, is played out by the company as a crazy ballet with sails, staggering bodies as if on a windswept deck, and the sound of thunder and whistlng wind.) 

It's a wonderful way to spend a late afternoon outdoors in summer, with something for Shakespeareans, slapstick fans, students of magic, poetry and romance lovers-and picnickers who like a good story. 

(Free. Saturdays and Sundays at 4—amphitheatre opens at 3 for picnicking—through August 7. About two hours and a quarter long, and an intermission. John Hinkel Park, end of Somerset Place, off Arlington, north from Marin Avenue roundabout. )