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The Tempest

Francesca Carpanini as Miranda and Sam Waterston as Prospero in a scene from “The Tempest” at the Delacorte Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

                                              by Michall Jeffers

It was only fitting that the sky was threatening; it had been raining hard all day, and everyone wondered if the show would go on. It did, of course; Shakespeare in the Park never cancels until show time, and then, only very rarely.

But the audience is not off the hook. The beginning of The Tempest features thunder and lightning galore.  The noise is so loud, many cover their ears. Onstage, we see heavy ropes, and metal staircases. There is a tiny ship with four sails, obviously symbolic, as are the turquoise flags being waved by young women. For a major shipwreck is in progress.

Meanwhile, back on the nearby island, Prospero (Sam Waterston) assures his young daughter, Miranda (Francesca Carpanini), that contrary to appearances, no one has been killed. This is the time, he decides, to tell her about their history. Prospero’s brother, Antonio (Cotter Smith), has taken the crown that belongs to Prospero. Miranda is actually a princess. Oh, and Prospero is really, really mad about the whole deal, and thrilled at the thought of getting revenge.  Finding Miranda the proper suitor is all part of the bigger picture for him.

Sam Waterston has long been associated with the Public Theater; this is his thirteenth production for the organization.  Waterston has made the choice to play Prospero as more of an Everyman than a sorcerer. His voice doesn’t boom, and he’s not larger than life (Frank Langella comes to mind in the part as Waterston’s opposite, as does Patrick Stewart). With his white hair and beard, grizzled moustache and stormy black brows, this is a king who has grown old and tired, but hasn’t really mellowed.

Carpanini is simply lovely as Miranda. She’s more than capable of handling the language, and she brings a palpable passion to her acting, very evident in her work here. The fact that she’s a third year acting student at Julliard boggles the mind. Who is this good when still a student? The fact that Tony winner Alex Sharp is a recent Julliard graduate begs the question: Are there still kids at the school who really need to learn to act, or are they all this good already?

Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Trinculo and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Stephano in a scene from “The Tempest” at the Delacorte Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

A happy thrill runs through the house when Jesse Tyler Ferguson walks on stage as Trinculo, the jester who literally wears a fool’s cap with bells. We know he’s accomplished and funny from his work on the hit show Modern Family, but I hope people realize what a wonderful actor he is. I’d love to see him play larger, meatier roles. He’d be a superb Iago (who’d suspect the genial redhead as a villain?); a Richard III who could handle both the intensity and the charm; and his Richard II could rival that of Ralph Fiennes.

Danny Mastrogiorgio, as Trinculo’s  cohort, Stephano, is a study in drunken swagger; he knows just how to get every laugh possible from the audience.  Chris Perfetti’s sweet voice and obvious dance skills make his a unique Ariel. There is a distinct feminine quality about his airy spirit, and a definite feeling of an avian presence. He wears a rather strange and incongruous leather harness around his vest; this bondage gear is shared by Caliban. You cannot take your eyes off  Louis Cancelmi when he’s onstage. Although they both wear the mark of servitude, his Caliban is in direct contrast to Perfetti’s Ariel. The deformed slave embodies all that is base about masculinity.  We can absolutely believe he tried to rape Miranda. He’s filthy, ill-mannered to the extreme, and serpentine as he slithers around the floor. That Cancelmi also project a deep sadness, disappointment, and bewilderment is a tribute to his skill. As awful as Caliban is, we do feel sorry for him.

It has long been assumed that The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last play. As Artistic Director Oskar Eustis explains, this assertion is disputed by the Public’s Shakespeare Scholar in Residence, Jim Shapiro. The Bard worked on at least three more plays, and remained a vital participant in the London theater scene. Controversy about Shakespeare rages on; a strong case has been made that some or all of his work was actually written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, among others. None of this in any way diminishes the sheer pleasure and wonder we feel each time we experience a performance of Shakespeare in the Park.

A word to the wise: No matter how warm and balmy the day may be, always bring a sweater. It will get cold once the sun goes down. Don’t worry about schlepping an umbrella; you won’t be allowed to use it here. Ladies (and gentlemen) do not, under any circumstances, wear high heels. If you have back problems or a bony backside, consider bringing a cushion. Note that the line at the ladies’ room is daunting during intermission, and act accordingly. Thus armed with information, you can now enjoy the show secure in the knowledge that you’ll be comfortable enough to completely enjoy the experience.

The Tempest, Delacorte Theater, Central Park, at 81st Street & Central Park West; 212-539-8500, Through July 5

Director: Michael Greif

Cast: Louis Cancelmi (Caliban), Francesca Carpanini (Miranda), Nicholas Christopher (Boatswain), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Trinculo), Frank Harts (Sebastian), Brandon Kalm (Francisco), Olga Karmansky (Iris), Tamika Sonja Lawrence (Ceres), Rico Lebron (Adrian), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Stephano), Matthew Oaks (Master), Charles Parnell (Alonso), Chris Perfetti (Ariel), Rodney Richardson (Ferdinand), Laura Shoop (Juno), Cotter Smith (Antonio), Sam Waterston (Prospero), Bernard White (Gonzalo), Jordan Barrow, Chloe Fox, Rosharra Francis, Thomas Gibbons &  Sunny Hitt (Mariners/Spirits)

Technical: sets, Riccardo Hernandez; costumes, Emily Rebholz; lighting, David Lander; sound , Acme Sound Partners & Jason Crystal; soundscapes, Matt Tierney; hair & makeup design,  J. Jared Janas; music, Michael Friedman