The Tempest should always open with a bang. It often brings out the high tech and the special effects. Baltimore Shakespeare Factory brings The Tempest back to its roots. Their space, inspired by Elizabethan theaters, holds what it needs to bring a storm inside: the imagination of the actors and the audience. It’s a high-energy opening to a high-energy show. It’s a great workout for the cast… and a bit for the audience.
Sian Edwards orchestrates the storm as Ariel: her passion for the play and the role shines. Ariel weaves their way through all three of the play’s key plot lines. (A gender-neutral emendation of the pronoun is one of the few edits director Marshall B. Garrett has made to the text). Zach Brewster-Geisz’ commanding Prospero explains the back story to his riveted daughter Miranda (Nell Quinn-Gibney): it’s a long scene, but they keep the engagement that draws the audience in. They’ve been alone for years, but the storm brings a love interest for Miranda: Dean Carlson as Ferdinand. The two have a sweet, charming connection. Quinn-Gibney’s Miranda has the strength of a woman who’s been doing a lot of work on the island.
Prospero has concocted this storm to bring in the players of the second plotline: the storm brings his evil brother Antonio (Jonathan Miot). Miot’s self-possessed, strong performance is a standout as he convinces Sebastia (Micaela Mannix) to slay his brother Alonso (Jim Hart). All this murder doesn’t exactly sound like the stuff of a comedy-romance, but fortunately the plotline has the antics of Zipporah Brown as the elderly adviser Gonzalo. Brown is rather too young for the role, but Baltimore Shakespeare Factory knows that a great actor can play any role…. especially in a play about imagination and wonder.
In the boat with them, but in their own plotline, come the drunken butler Stephano (Jeff Miller) and the clown Trinculo (Nina Krauss). Krauss’ Trinculo is precise, carrying more than a bit of Shakespeare’s wise fools — a remarkably sympathetic and endearing choice. Stephano and Trinculo meet Caliban (Carlson again), Prospero’s bad-to-the-bone, ugly servant… usually.
Garrett has made a rather remarkable choice, double-casting Carlson as both Caliban and Ferdinand. Strikingly handsome, he has an unusually sympathetic portrayal of Caliban. Without omitting Miranda’s #metoo moment, the connection between Carlson and Quinn-Gibney works in both plot lines. It’s a troubling element of the play (as Garrett addresses in the director’s notes), but one small fascinating choice shifts the balance substantially: Caliban’s tied-up leg reminds us that this was, in fact, his island… and maybe he deserved better.
Carlson has to make some pretty rapid changes to get from one to the other: props belong to both costumer Kendra Shapanus and Carlson’s tremendous physicality to make that change work. The costuming, in a Renaissance-inspired style, suits the Renaissance theater environment.
Renaissance theater would also have had a lot of music, and The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays. Jamie Horrell supplies both original songs and scoring, sung very ably by Edwards, Mannix, and Krauss… and a bit less ably by Brewster-Geisz. Inserting a modern song at the end is a bit of an odd choice for a play otherwise committed to its Renaissance roots: affecting, but slightly puzzling. Fortunately, Brewster-Geisz uses it to drive perhaps his strongest speech of the play with wisdom. Horrell’s music is a wonderful addition, playing up the best of Shakespeare’s songs and adding emotional resonance to every scene.
Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is gold-standard Shakespeare that the Bard himself would enjoy, making great use of the stage and the space. The dialogue is clear and crisp, and easily followed even by the young children in the audience. The Tempest kicks off a bold season for them, including an Othello in authentic Original Pronunciation, and the rarely-performed (and often-underestimated) King John.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
The Tempest plays through February 4, 2018 at The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at the St. Mary’s Community Center— 3900 Roland Avenue in Hampden borough of Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.