Bard on the Beach's The Tempest is a triumph

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By William Shakespeare. Directed by Meg Roe. A Bard on the Beach production. In the Mainstage tent on Friday, June 27. Continues until September 18

Book it. Experience this production of The Tempest for yourself, because all of the things I’m about to say can only approximate how good it is.

I’ve never noticed before how movingly the play speaks about youth as well as age. In the story, a magician named Prospero causes a group of nobles to be shipwrecked on the island where he lives with his daughter Miranda. Prospero is the rightful duke of Milan, but his evil brother usurped Prospero’s place and banished him and his infant child. With the help of his fairy slave, Ariel, Prospero intends to reclaim his position and find love for the now-grown Miranda, who has no memory of having seen a man other than her father.

When the handsome Ferdinand, prince of Naples, washes up, along with the other victims of the storm, Miranda exclaims, “Oh, wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,/That has such people in’t!” These lines speak to the discovery of the sheer, sensual ecstasy of physical existence.

Voiced by recent Studio 58 grad Lili Beaudoin, they’re transporting. It’s exciting to be in the presence of a credibly innocent, youthful Miranda. And Beaudoin gives the character power, realizing her as a scrappy, island-raised tomboy. Rising talent Daniel Doheny, Ferdinand to this Miranda, is so disarmingly openhearted and smitten that all I wanted to do was dance at their wedding.

As Miranda and Ferdinand leap into life, Prospero releases his grip on it. For the bulk of the evening, Allan Morgan’s Prospero is tautly disciplined and in control, which makes it all the more touching when Morgan, who is a mature actor, speaks, with naked simplicity, the lines in which Prospero gives up his magic, his art, his capacity for creating and knowing ecstasy: “And deeper than did ever plummet sound/I’ll drown my book.”

Todd Thomson, who plays Prospero’s monster, Caliban, is genuinely threatening and vulnerable—a cowering, dangerous dog. And Jennifer Lines makes a birdlike, tender Ariel, torn between her love for Prospero and her desperate desire for freedom.

As she did when she first directed The Tempest for Bard in 2008—this production builds on that outing—Meg Roe transforms the two drunken sailors in the script into a pair sauced, shipwrecked ladies of the court. Working with Thomson’s Caliban, Naomi Wright (Stephana) and Luisa Jojic (Trincula) make the most of the Bard’s template for physical comedy. They even work in a little kinky shoe licking.

With her designers, Roe creates a sensual feast. Her rendering of the opening storm is thrilling. At one point, costumer Christine Reimer gives Ariel wings that span the huge width of the stage and the beaked, lace-draped goblins that accompany her are like fetish objects come to life. Gerald King’s lighting makes all of the spectacle more spectacular.

And the score that Alessandro Juliani has written for the live string quartet enhances both the play’s edginess and its deep lyricism. Together, Juliani and Roe use the play’s many references to music to excellent effect, creating a scene, for instance, in which Ferdinand is not only bewitched by music, music carries him across the stage with the help of fairy forces that are invisible to him.

This Tempest is a triumph. Roe trusts the text. She glories in it. And that pays off.

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