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Revenge is sweet — but forgiveness is sweeter — in The Tempest (1611), the third show of Theatre in the Park's "Legendary" 2002-2003 season. Legend has it that English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616) — inspired by a miraculous tale of survival after a New World shipwreck or maybe even the mystery of what happened to "The Lost Colony" — intended The Tempest to be his fond farewell to the theater as he retired to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Whether or not he wrote any subsequent plays to supplement his income in his twilight years, The Tempest has all the marks of a valedictory drama.
"I first read The Tempest in college," says TIP executive and artistic director Ira David Wood, III, "but I have never seen or worked on a production of it before."
Wood says, "Theatre in the Park's version of The Tempest will be performed in-the-round. It is being designed to be a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. Presented in a dreamlike Cirque-du-Soleil style, this production will feature performers who are acrobats, magicians, actors, and dancers. Unusual scenic, sound, and sensual costume elements are being meticulously combined to give the production a striking look and 'feel.'"
Wood adds, "For obvious reasons, we wanted to accentuate the lighter side of The Tempest. In my mind, nothing has as much primal 'brightness' about it as does a circus. Why not make Prospero's island peopled with these kind of 'magical creatures' — jugglers, stilt walkers, fire breathers.
"Once we combined all of the elements and put them onstage together," Wood says, "we found that this approach not only amplified the play — it also kept young and old alike delightfully entertained. The Tempest's 'family appeal' was broadened, and we remain happily satisfied with the results."
Magic will definitely be in the air, thanks to director David Wood and an imaginative and resourceful creative team that includes TIP technical director and set designer Steve Larson, lighting designer Thomas Mauney, costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson, choreographer Matthew-Jason Willis, and acrobatic and magic-effects wizard Paul Miller.
"Steve Larson's set is a simple white circle surrounded on four sides by audience seating platforms," says David Wood. "Any time you have to light a show done in-the-round, it is a complicated process. Thomas Mauney has done a magical job in creating the 'mood' I was looking for. And Shawn Stewart-Larson has done a wonderful job of creating an original look for the 'magical' islanders and the 'mortals' in the play."
The show's hero — Prospero (D. Anthony Pender), the rightful Duke of Milan — is a master magician, who uses his book and his staff to conjure up fierce storms to mock-shipwreck and then torment his old enemies from Italy when the vessel on which they are sailing strays into New World waters, where Prospero and his beloved daughter, Miranda (Jillian Voytko), were exiled to a (magical) desert island. The mischievous sprite Ariel (J.T. Pitt) and the rebellious half-human/half-witch Caliban (Phil Crone) — both creatures under Prospero's command — provide scant company for the revenge-minded duke and his innocent daughter.
First, Prospero separates the ship's passengers and crew into small parties, each ignorant of all the others' existence and believing that they are the sole survivors of the wreck. Then, Prospero dispatches Ariel to spy upon and vex his treacherous usurping brother, Antonio (Lennardo DeLaine), and to foil the foul plot fomented by Caliban — eagerly abetted by the court jester Trinculo (Mike Rabb) and the drunkard Stephano (Scotty Cherryholmes) — to murder Prospero as he sleeps and take over the island.
Meanwhile, Ferdinand (Aaron Dunlap), the handsome son of the Alonso (Jerry Zieman), the King of Naples, meets the beautiful Miranda; and they fall in love. Eventually, not whether but how to reconcile with his old enemies becomes Prospero's chief concern.
Other key performers in the TIP version of The Tempest include: Fred Corlett, who portrays Prospero's erstwhile friend, the wise old counselor Gonzalo; Kayla Martin, who plays Ariel's Shadow; and Brett Wilson, impersonates Sebastian.
"The Tempest is a very theatrical play," writes David Wood in his Director's Notes for the show, "that is, it is obviously a wonderful vehicle for displaying the full resources of the theatre: action, special effects, music, dancing, storms, and so on. Anyone who wants a Shakespearean play to produce mainly as an extravagant theatrical tour de force (say, a rock and roll extravaganza or an opera) would turn naturally to this play, which is rivaled only by A Midsummer Night's Dream in this respect. And a number of modern productions have stressed mainly that element, without bothering about anything else.
"That is clearly a legitimate approach," Wood claims. "After all, a well-delivered theatrical extravaganza can make a satisfying night of theater. And it is clear that The Tempest does depend for much of its effectiveness on a wide range of special effects — sound, lighting, fantastic visions, a whole realm of 'magic.' But I think there's more to the theatricality of the play than just its style. In my view, a central issue of the Tempest is an exploration into the nature of theater itself."
Wood adds, "To give you a sense of what I mean, let me mention two questions that puzzled me about this play when I first read it. The first is this: If Prospero's power is so effective against his opponents as it appears to be, then why didn't he use it back in Milan to avoid having to be exiled in the first place? And the second one, which arises naturally from that first one, is this: Given that Prospero is so keen on his magic and takes such delight in it and that it gives him so much power, why does he abandon it before returning to Milan?
"I puzzled over these questions," confesses Wood, "until I came to what seems to me the most satisfying answer. It is a very obvious one: the magic does not work in Milan; it is effective only on the island, away from the world of the court, where plotting against each other, even against one's own family, for the sake of political power is the order of the day and where, if you take your mind off the political realities for very long, you may find yourself in a boat with a load of books heading to an unknown exile. Prospero's magic can only become effective in a special place, a world of spirits, of illusion, song, and enchantment, on a magic island — in other words, in the theater.
Theatre in the Park presents The Tempest Friday-Saturday, April 25-26, at 8 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, May 1-3 and 8-10, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 4 and 11, at 3 p.m. at TIP, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18 ($12 students, seniors, and military personnel). (NOTE: The May 1 performance will be audio described.) 919/831-6058. http://www.theatreinthepark.com/frames/tempest_frame.html.