Arts theater review

Revenge is a dish best served cold and with magical rain

The Actors’ Shakespeare Project presents The Tempest

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Samantha Richert (Ariel) and Marya Lowry (Prospero) star in The Tempest by the Actors' Shakespeare Project
Nile Schot

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest
The Actors’ Shakespeare Project
Brookline’s Willet Hall at United Parish
Directed by Allyn Burrows
Running Dec. 1, 2016 - Jan. 8, 2017

Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, centers around Prospero’s revenge and eventual decision to forgive.

A jealous brother, Antonio (Thomas Grenon) casts Prospero and Prospero’s daughter Miranda (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan) out to sea, usurping the throne of Milan. Prospero and Miranda are stranded on an island, where Prospero learns magic and becomes a powerful sorceress. Years later, when Antonio and his ship happen near the island, Prospero conjures a powerful tempest that leaves the crew shipwrecked, setting Prospero’s revenge plot into motion.

Even in the original, Prospero is the core of the narrative. She is the rightful Duchess of Milan, the mother of Miranda, the sister of Antonio, and the master of the spirit Ariel (Samantha Richert). Lowry’s charismatic delivery lends power to the character and feels neither too stilted nor overemotional.

It’s not the first time that Prospero’s gender was switched in an adaptation. In 2010, Julie Taymor’s film The Tempest cast Helen Mirren as the protagonist (known in the film as Prospera), a role traditionally acted by a man in Shakespeare’s original play. Here, the Actors’ Shakespeare Project has cast Marya Lowry, who blends the various facets of our protagonist seamlessly and fits naturally into the script.

In contrast to the serious Prospero, the drunk jester Trinculo (Mara Sidmore) and butler Stephano (Michael Forden Walker), who were part of the shipwrecked crew, bring a welcome change to the play. Their acting, especially in their interaction with Caliban (Jesse Hinson), is suitably over-the-top and melodramatic, generating some commendable physical comedy.

In one memorable scene, Trinculo, believing everyone else to be dead, finds the wild Caliban sleeping. Due to exhaustion, Trinculo flops on top of Caliban to take a nap and pulls the covers over. Stephano arrives only to believe that Caliban is a four-legged monster while Caliban believes himself to be possessed by some demonic spirit, unable to get up. The ridiculous situations that the trio get into are inherently comical, but the enthusiasm of Sidmore, Walker, and Hinson take the scenes to another level.

Caliban, the only inhabitant of the island before Prospero arrived and the son of the witch Sycorax, is portrayed here as a wild beast-man, compared to a fish by Trinculo. His visceral snarls and feral movements can be fearful, yet Hinson’s excellent portrayal is both humorous and generates sympathy for the character.

Also humorous is the spirit Ariel who serves Prospero in the hopes of becoming free. Like Sidmore and Walker, Richert too delivers humor well. Ariel’s antics and giddiness served as suitable contrast to Prospero’s character. In the background, the addition of music and lighting effects coupled with Richert’s singing ability added an enchanting ambience to Ariel’s magic enchantments on the shipwrecked crew.

Perhaps it is a testament to how much these cast members shone, as the other cast members were somewhat forgettable. Despite these shortcomings, this light-hearted adaptation of The Tempest had many audience members roaring with laughter and left us with an enjoyable evening.

The set design was both utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing, with LED lights running along ropes that overlooked the stage and a wide V-shaped platform that acted as Antonio’s ship and fit naturally into the island. Props were sparse but used well. At certain scenes, cast members would even run through the aisles or sit on the apron stage. This performance in a smaller venue may lack the stunning visuals of larger, high-tech adaptations, but the use of a small stage made the presentation more intimate.

For non-Shakespeare fans, this adaptation may be difficult to follow with the original language. But despite never having read the source material, I could follow the plot through the characters’ actions. I found the physical humor to be uproariously comical but the literary humor can be a hit or miss.

The Tempest is currently running from now until Jan. 8, 2017 at Brookline’s Willet Hall at United Parish.