Magic and music at heart of Meg Roe's Tempest

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      The Tempest

      By William Shakespeare. Directed by Meg Roe. A Bard on the Beach production. At the Douglas Campbell Studio Stage on Wednesday, July 2. Continues until September 20

      A star director is born. Meg Roe is making her directorial debut with The Tempest at Bard on the Beach, and her interpretation is so assured that she very nearly creates a perfect storm—although this production is so pretty, light, and refreshing, it’s more like a perfect summer shower.

      The play is about magic, about spells and the many forms of personal transformation—from falling in love to forgiveness. The magician Prospero, who is the rightful Duke of Milan, was betrayed by his brother Antonio and Alonso, King of Naples. Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, were set adrift in a boat, and landed on a desert island where they have lived ever since.

      Prospero commands the spirits of this enchanted place, including the sweet-tempered Ariel and the bestial Caliban. As the play opens, Prospero invokes a storm that washes his enemies up on his shore.

      The Tempest is saturated with music. As it lures the shipwrecked about the isle, it becomes the theatrical expression of magic. Emotive and baroquely decorative, Alessandro Juliani's score is played beautifully by an on-stage string trio composed of Mark Beaty, Llowyn Ball, and Masae Day. With their spaciousness and repetition, his song settings support the text, and their melodic progressions are as unpredictably entrancing as the flight of a bat.

      Allan Morgan’s Prospero is fuelled by huge and mercurial emotions. Threatening Ariel, he is frightening to the point of cruelty, but then he suddenly declares his love for her, smiling mischievously, and it’s as if spring had burst forth in the middle of winter. Jennifer Lines’s Ariel is a masterpiece. A delicate, birdlike creature, this Ariel is every bit as sensitive as Prospero is, but less sure of herself—and, ultimately, a creature of the wild.

      Roe has cast Naomi Wright and Colleen Wheeler as the play’s two drunken sailors, transforming Trinculo and Stephano into Trincula and Stephana. It’s an inspired choice. These two actors find fresh hilarity in material that can appear ancient and unfunny. Shamelessly moaning like a rutting cow, Wheeler makes much of Stephana’s lust for Caliban.

      Roe’s choice to cast the handsome Bob Fraser as the morally and physically deformed Caliban works only in fits and starts. Although it’s imposed on the text, the sexual play with Stephana works. But there’s no threat from this supposed monster; he feels like a mildly misunderstood nice guy.

      Julie McIsaac finds Miranda’s innocence, but on opening night she shouted her lines. Christine Reimer clothes the cast in gorgeous Elizabethan costumes, which means lace collars and rich brocades for the courtiers, and masklike creations for the spirits. Ariel sports a fitted rust-coloured dress that erupts into a feathered collar curving dramatically away from her face.

      Roe is responsible for the remarkable clarity, consistency, and overall success of this production. And Bard on the Beach artistic director Christopher Gaze deserves our thanks for giving her this opportunity, as he has done for other artists, including Dean Paul Gibson and David Mackay, early in their careers.