Dallas — Of the 37 (or so) plays Shakespeare wrote, his timeless tale of magic, music, and malice, The Tempest is the last that he wrote exclusively on his own. We now classify this play as one of six romances (tragicomic adventures with storybook settings) he penned during the final phase of his profession. Which makes The Tempest quite appropriate as the last play of Shakespeare Dallas’ 2016 season.
More so than any other work in the Bard’s canon, this play is made to be enjoyed on grassy hillsides beneath a canopy of stars serenaded by ambient cricket noises, and cooled by early fall breezes. The dreamlike spectacle of this show pops in an outdoor venue, and SD Artistic Associate René Moreno makes the most of sparkling design elements, snappy pacing, and near-perfect casting to deliver a comprehensive vision worthy of a season finale.
Prospero (T.A. Taylor) is the usurped Duke of Milan cast away on an enchanted island with his daughter Miranda (Dagny Sanson), and he is looking for payback against his “perfidious” brother Antonio (Greg Holt) who colluded with Alonso (Selmore Haines, III) the King of Naples to take his title. The book-loving Prospero uses magic to hold tyrannical sway over the isle and its inhabitants, the airy spirit Ariel (Tex Patrello), and the earthy man-monster Caliban (Dean Wray). The play opens with the storm Prospero brews to shipwreck the royal retinue to begin his revenge.
The Tempest pushes its many fantastical elements of pageantry, miracle, comedy, and song to the forefront while keeping its darker parts of intrigue, rape, and subjugation at bay. Miranda and Ferdinand (a suave Robert Gemaehlich) represent the healing power of young love and political union, which Prospero celebrates by organizing a masque starring Iris (Alle Mims), Ceres (Desiree Fultz), and Juno (T’Arah Julieta Craig). The duo of “jesting monkey” Trinculo (Jeff Swearingen) and butler Stephano (Marcus Stimac) provide not only comedic relief, but some of the most delightful parts of this production as they riff off of each other like drunken lords of the highest order.
Speaking of stellar performances, Patrello as Ariel soars as the freedom-seeking spirit. He is Puck-like in his breathless excitement, yet angelic in voice and movement enhanced by a wind-blown hairdo and exotic eye makeup. Another highpoint is Craig’s scheming Sebastian, who is deliciously seductive in her murderous talk with Holt’s believably evil Antonio.
Wray’s Caliban characterization is a hissing reptilian thing whose momentary episodes of poetic clarity are a bit jarring, yet he is still able to bring the right amount of scary.
The success of this play hinges on a skillful Prospero. The actor must be a believable magician, a leader who must learn to lead, a matchmaker, and eventually a man who seeks and grants forgiveness over vengeance. SD stalwart Taylor has done yeoman-like work over the years, occasionally shining (as seen in last year’s The King’s Face); however, this subtle performance as a broken and near-tyrannical castaway, who many consider as a stand-in for Shakespeare himself, might be his best. Taylor’s Prospero is Moses-like in sandals and ornate robe (brilliant costumes by Jen J. Madison) whose halting delivery bespeaks a deep pain and world-weariness.
Michael Sullivan’s set of a blue star chart background wrapping around dual stairs and bookcases complements the natural surroundings, and the performances of the many songs in this Tempest are the strongest I have heard, with Ian Ferguson’s music composition as perfectly suited to PrismCo’s fluid movement design.
In Prospero’s solitary epilogue, he beseeches the audience for the applause “of your good hands” for his freedom, “or else my project fails which was to please.” We are happy to grant his liberty because his project more than succeeds.
» The Tempest was reviewed at Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre in Tenison Park; this week, the production moves to Addison Circle Park.