The Tempest review by Randy Hardwick

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tina Landau
At Steppenwolf Theatre

Whimsical Tempest Delights the Imagination

Frank Galati in The Tempest
Frank Galati in The Tempest

Steppenwolf’s first-ever production of the Bard is a delightful continuation of the company’s season dedicated to the human imagination. In this fanciful presentation filled with brightly colored costumes and unexpected acrobatics, the shipwreck tale plays out upon a barren set as gray as the gale that has blown the voyagers ashore. Director Tina Landau uses her extraordinary troupe of actors to maximum advantage in creating the extraordinary island world of The Tempest. The result is pure entertainment…and pure Shakespeare.

The legendary Frank Galati, better known for directing Shakespeare than for being onstage, is Prospero, a usurped and exiled duke become sorcerer who controls not only the weather, but all aspects of the island. He is a wise and fearsome wizard with a Santa-like quality that brings the storm to an ultimately happy conclusion. The other island inhabitants are Prospero’s lovely daughter, Miranda (Alana Arenas); Caliban (K. Todd Freeman), a slave and only native of the island; and a trio of spirits (Eric James Casady, Emma Rosenthal, Miles Fletcher) led by Prospero’s airy spirit servant and computer whiz, Ariel (Jon Michael Hill). When fortune puts the ship of Prospero’s usurping brother, Antonio (James Vincent Meredith), within reach, the ship is blown ashore by Prospero’s tempest spell. Also onboard the ship are Antonio’s co-conspirator pal, the king of Naples, Alonso (Craig Spidle) and a company that includes, among others, the king’s councillor, Gonzalo (Lois Smith) and his heart-throb of a son, Ferdinand (Stephen Louis Grush).

With the help of Ariel and his band of acrobatic spirits, Prospero disperses the seafarers – a returning wedding party in festive attire – across the island, each group unaware that the others have survived the tempest. The twists and turns that Shakespeare always provides transform what initially looks like a plot for revenge into an awakening of human spirit. Everyone and everything undergo a “sea change” in this strangest island setting. As perennially happens in such tales, steadfast love blossoms between the innocent Miranda and the handsome Ferdinand. There is transformation, forgiveness, love and awakening surrounded by some of the most famous lines the Bard ever penned. “We are such stuff as dreams are made of, rounded with a little sleep.” Shortly after Prospero reveals this piece of wisdom to us, the masterful Galati delivers the final speech directly to the audience, imploring them send him on his way by the sound of applause. The audience responds with thunder of its own and a steady howl of “Bravo” as well.

The Tempest is breathtaking proof that in skilled hands, Shakespeare’s plays remain unequalled in the capacity to inspire imagination. Director Landau gives The Tempsest a fast-paced playful touch; the special effects are tremendous and the cast includes some of the best talent working the Chicago stage.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Randy Hardwick

At Steppenwolf theatre, 1650 N. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650, www.steppenwolf.org, Tickets $20 – $70, Tuesdays thru Sundays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays & Sunday matinees at 3 pm, Wednesdays matinees at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.