There’s a lot of music and magic in the Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s enchanted production of The Tempest, which had its first presentation Thursday on the TCU campus.
This play, believed to be the Bard’s last, is set on an island ruled by Prospero (J. Brent Alford), an unfairly deposed nobleman of Naples. He lives there with his daughter, Miranda (Alyssa Robbins); a wretched old son-of-a-witch, Caliban (David Coffee), who was left behind by a previous tenant; and various sprites and spirits who do his bidding, including the supremely loyal Ariel (Kelsey Milbourn).
As the curtain rises, a terrible storm is roiling the craft bearing Alonso, the King of Naples (Alex Chrestopoulos), his son Ferdinand (Bradley Gosnell) and Prospero’s scheming brother, Antonio (Chris Hury), among other sailors and members of the court.
The ship sinks and the scattered survivors wash up on Prospero’s isle in small groups without knowing that he, or their shipmates, are there.
Despite the beating they have just received from the sea, some of the new visitors start plotting political violence before there has been time for their boots to dry, while Ferdinand sets his cap on romance.
The all-seeing, all-knowing Prospero stays a step ahead of everybody as he deals with issues much larger than water-logged sailors and love-struck princes — such as revenge and redemption.
Coming at the end of Shakespeare’s output, this play, which is neither a comedy nor a tragedy, feels like the work of an aging artist who has grown weary of representational works and instead wants to fill his canvases with daring, abstract strokes.
Director T.J. Walsh, who is also the artistic director of the festival, embraces the most fantastical aspects of this amazing work and uses them as his guideposts. He turns his stage into a fairy dust-sprinkled island, where we can all live in wide-eyed wonderment for a few hours and then get back on the ship (how did it become whole again?) as wiser and happier people.
One of the most charming aspects of Walsh’s approach is the care and artfulness he brings to the musical elements of the production.
This is especially true of the play’s wedding scene, which features a cameo by Liz Mikel, one of the most admired musical theater actresses in our area, as the goddess Juno. Her singing, and the brilliant staging of that scene, are among the highlights of a show with more than its share of memorable moments.
There is simply not a weak performance in this production. Alford is a winning Prospero, and Milbourn (who also did the show’s choreography) is a lithe and athletic Ariel. Robbins needs to project better, but pretty much everybody else rates a pat on the back.
Providing comic relief are a drunken trio made up of Coffee and shipwreck victims Stephano (Richard Haratine) and Trinculo (Jakie Cabe). These veteran performers take some liberties with their roles, but they have all earned the right to ham it up a bit if they care to do so. And besides, Shakespeare hands the opportunity to them on a platter.
But, as good as the performances are, it is the overall presentation, not individual achievement, that stays with you after seeing this production. Toby Jaguar Algya’s sound design, Aaron Patrick DeClerk’s costumes and Michael Skinner’s lighting design are as tightly partnered with Walsh’s vision as Ariel is to Prospero’s magic.