The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company triumphantly opened its final show at its current Race Street location in tempestuous fashion with one of Shakespeare’s last plays, The Tempest. The play tells the story of sorcerer Prospero (Nicholas Rose), the rightful Duke of Milan, who is set adrift with his daughter Miranda (Aiden Sims) and, years later, plots revenge against his usurpers. Using magic, he conjures an immense storm and tricks his nemesis brother (re-named Antonia and played by Kelly Mengelkoch) and King of Naples Alonso (Jim Hopkins) into thinking that they have been marooned on the island as well. The dispenser of his magical charms is sprite Ariel (played intriguingly by Caitlin McWethy) who shadows most of the characters unseen by all but Prospero. Three interwoven stories are told with Prospero playing matchmaker with Miranda and Ferdinand (Alonso’s son played by Crystian Wiltshire). His ministrations succeed admirably. In the second story, deformed island native Caliban (a slave of Prospero portrayed mischievously by Geoffrey Warren Barnes II) plots with jester Trinculo (Justin McCombs) and drunken butler Stephano (Billy Chace) to perform a coup against Prospero. The third scenario details Sebastian (Kyle Brumley) and Antonia’s attempt to replace Alonso as the king. Ariel, at Prospero’s bidding, foils all of the coup attempts and, eventually, earns her freedom.
The Shakespeare Company has an advantage in that it is a resident group of actors who work together year round which is reflected in the ease with which they interact. There are some outstanding performances including Rose as Prospero who is both a character and a narrator and McWethy as Ariel who is part sprite, part enchantress and part scene stealer. Barnes has an interesting take on Caliban with reptilian mannerisms and an undefinable accent. But the stage really lights up when McCombs (as Trinculo) and Chace (Stephano) cavort in various states of drunkenness, often in contrast with Caliban’s monstrosity. All are directed by the triumvirate of Sara Clark, Jeremy Dubin and Brian Isaac Phillips.
Identified variously as a Romance and/or a Comedy, The Tempest boasts villainous action, romantic love and slapstick buffoonery in equal proportions. This mixture makes this an unusual and interesting Shakespearian play.
But the really interesting aspect of the show is the staging (designed by Shannon Robert) which is a combination of modern technology and some very old-fashioned theatrical tricks such as using sheets manipulated by actors to simulate waves. As you walk into the theater, there is a bare stage flanked by shabby sail material against the aisle walls. The play opens with a single light and recordings of numerous well-known Shakespearean quotes from other shows. Suddenly, the storm starts and we see projections of waves on the walls accompanied by the clash of thunder and actors simulating the rocking of the ship. Throughout the show, we see numerous surreal projections adding to the eeriness and effective use of many small lights hanging from the ceiling above the audience, all designed and controlled by Justen Locke. At the end of the play, the actors strip the canvas from the walls and the play reverts to a black stage with the actors out of costume and in street clothes. It seems to be an ending to the era of the current theater.