In the world of theater, undoubtedly the best known name is that of Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare.
You either love him (and his works) or …
Afraid I have been on the “or …” side for a goodly number of years.
Not that I don’t appreciate his incredible output and the depth of his characters, but I have always had a problem with the language. Not in the sense that I have a problem with Quentin Tarantino’s language — too much of a bad thing is a bad thing — but somehow I always have difficulty getting into the rhythm.
With the current Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival production of “The Tempest” however, (with apologies to “Hairspray”) “You just can’t stop the beat.”
From the moment the Ship-Master (Paul Hanft) lashed himself to the wheel in anticipation of the coming storm as thunder boomed, lightening flashed and towering waves threatened to overtake even the audience, I was hooked.
So what if some of the terminology went by me. There was never any doubt as to who was who, what was going on and why.
As always, this production — as have all of the preceeding 17 mainstage shows since the Festival’s beginning in 2000 — is solidly cast.
Leading the beautifully articulate ensemble is Chicago actor/director Nick Sandys as Prospero,
rightful Duke of Milan. Cheated of his duchy by his jealous brother Antonio (Brian Sprague), with the help of Alonso, King of Naples (Jon Herrera), Prospero and his daughter Miranda (Rebecca Leiner) were cast a drift and survived with the help of Gonzalo (Alan Sader), a friendly noble, to live on an uncharted island for 12 years. Possessed of magical powers, Prospero uses his for good and waits patiently for the chance to exact his revenge.
Opportunity arrives as the story opens and, for the next two hours-plus, the stage of the Parricia Decio Theater in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center becomes the setting for love, laughter, treachery plotted and foiled, and magic, lots and lots of magic!
Miranda meets (and, of course, falls in love with) Ferdinand (Xavier Bleuel), son of King Alonso. Unfortunately, Ferdinand’s uncle, Sebastian (Guillermo Alonso) aided Antonio in his murderous attempt. But Shakespeare never lets things like this stand in the way of true love.
A generous dose of comedy is supplied by Trinculo (Jacob D’Eustachio) and Stephanie (Patricia Egglesto), servants of the king, and Caliban (Alex Podulke), deformed son of a witch. Caliban serves Prospero. The trio helps themselves to the contents of several casks of wine “liberated” by the storm and drunkenly devise their own plot.
Aiding Prospero is Ariel (Sarah Scanlon), a magical spirit rescued by Prospero and bound to serve him until he decides to release her.
As the plots, subplots and counter plots uncoil on the magical island, it is clear that director West Hyler not only has a clear line on each of the characters but uses his association with Cirque du Soliel to underscore the enchantments, which are enabled by the use of what seems like a dozen electric floor fans.
Trust me. After the first storm rises, you don’t even notice them. In act two they provide the winds which billow gorgeous clouds of silk at the magician’s command and swirl leaves in a beautifully contained upward spiral, all the imaginative work of air designer Daniel Wurtzel, possibly best known for his paper tornado at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics closing ceremony.
Equally impressive are the effortless attitudes of Scanlon, who maintains Ariel’s mid-air perch (on a trapeze!) throughout, making each sinuous movement seem as effortless as you know it cannot be.
In act one, one of Ariel’s Quality (unnamed singers, dancers and musicians) descends via two long red fabric panels and creates a cocoon in which he/she “sleeps” for a good portion of the action.
Add to that D’Eustachio’s constant and near-perfect demonstration of the art of juggling, all the while maintaining his wily character, and you have a “Tempest” that literally has something for everyone, as evidenced by the reactions of the audience of all ages!
The overall excellence of the production is solidified by the supportive original score by Scotty Arnold, by Kevin Dryer’s mood-enhancing lighting and Marcua Stephens’ impressive scenic design.
This NDSF season is billed as “Shakespeare’s Last Words,” but after this you can be sure there will be many more to come.
“THE TEMPEST” plays through Sunday in the DeBartolo PAC on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. For performance times and reservations, call 631-2800 or visit Shakespeare.nd.edu. Children under 18 admitted free.