Dallas Theater Center says hello to its new season with Shakespeare's goodbye to the stage: The Tempest. Director Kevin Moriarty keeps it crisp, casting his characters from a plane instead of a boat and takes the opportunity to lose some old baggage along the way. Gone are the doddering old Prospero, the colonial-guilt Caliban, and the fourth-act masque. The result is a plane crash drama with such popular appeal that J. J. Abrams may be filing a copyright claim. Only DTC's The Tempest is so much clearer than Lost, you'd be obliged to refer to it as Found in the filing.
More like a bearded Matthew Fox than the old Gielgud of Prosperos past, Chamblee Ferguson takes control and drives the hundred minutes with an intensity only tempered by Hunter Ryan Herdlicka's ethereal Ariel. This relationship is the most affecting in the production and provides poignant counterpoint to Prospero's with Caliban, played by Joe Nemmers as much whimpering man as monster. Relieved of the allusion of Prospero as colonist, Ferguson's Prospero is revealed as a wronged man seeking his revenge who learns restraint and claims responsibility. He skillfully traces this new arc aided by a golden-voiced Herdlicka and an almost Eeyore-ish Nemmers.
The romantic plotline of moon-eyed Miranda and the manly Ferdinand also owes much of its magic to the performance-enhancing voice and prancing of Herdlicka's Ariel. His pitch-perfect tunes are perfect for pitching woo and none to soon because Steven Michael's Walters' Ferdinand is not the matinee idol match for the Miranda that Abbey Siegworth creates. Consequently, their chemistry is more puppy love than passion, putting extra power into her discovery of the "brave new world" on which she's been missing out.
You'd be forgiven for seeing the conspirator's plotline as old school Shakespeare with lots of characters with similar names and differing alliances. But appearances can be deceiving. While Jerry Russell as Gonzalo is distinguishing himself as the good guy minister to Matthew Tomlanovich's King Alonso, J. Brent Alford as Antonio and Christopher Carlos as Sebastian are making the most of being the bad guys. They're so recognizable as contemporary bad guys that we fully expect them to meet a contemporary bad guy end. In this way, Shakespeare's forgiveness resolution is refreshing and old becomes new again.
What isn't as new are the clowns Stephano (Lee Trull) and Trinculo (Cliff Miller). Caliban and the boys are in place and on time with the classic bits the Bard brings, but by the time they are changing into hip-hop hoodies, they seem to be in a different show. With one flash of bling-ed bottom, the production takes a noticeable step back. Perhaps the dual duty of set and costumes brought on this taste mistake by designer Beowulf Boritt, but his set more than makes up for it.
Boritt's set is a show-stealing mountain of eye candy. That Ferguson wasn't entirely ignored for the first 15 minutes is a testament to his power and tenacity. Hidden behind a simple plane indicated by airline seats and a taped outline lies a floating mountain-topped white island. The force of nature is revealed in toppled trees with root-ripped earth slopes. The real eye-trapping culprit, however, is the crumpled scrim and ripped paper ridge backdrop. Lighting Designer Clifton Taylor takes full advantage of this playground with such dazzle that by the last scene's light cue we are begging for a calm flat wash. It's during this relief that we encounter Prospero's farewell.
It's here that Ferguson's authenticity pays the greatest dividends. Director Moriarty has added Prospero's "revels are now ended" speech to the last soliloquy. With a typical old Prospero, the obvious echo to this farewell is death. But it comes as a surprise from a younger Prospero and since he contemplates it, so must we all. At the edge of the stage, with no gimmicks, Moriarty trusts Ferguson to land the enormous show square in our hearts. In this case, the round peg fits perfectly.
It's a far cry from the three-song dance party rave-off of Moriarty's A Midsummer Night's Dream from two years ago. Whether this marks the beginning of a new aesthetic with greater economy and faith in the performer remains to be seen. But if Prospero can break his staff and let his fairy go, maybe the Theater Center can too.