Friday, September 17, 1999


'The Tempest' gets bizarre reading

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bizarre is perhaps the kindest word to describe Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival season opener The Tempest.

        Prospero (Paul Riopelle) is a duke-turned-sorcerer, escaped to a remote island when his sibling (here a sister, Lesley Bevan) usurps his land. A dozen years later, he lives with his beautiful daughter Miranda (Corinne Mohlenhoff) and a pair of enslaved servants; spirit Ariel (Joseph Verciglio), who has a red body wash; and monstrous Caliban (Giles Davies) whose skin and costume are blue.

        Prospero, fatigued by the world, uses his magic to arrange a small tempest so his enemies — murderous sis, her old partner in crime Alonso (Sylvester Little, Jr.), and her new partner in crime, Alonso's brother (Keland Grant Scher) — will be stranded on his island.

        Instead of revenge, the adventure brings closure, complete with some drunken comedy provided by a jester, a butler and Caliban; and a happily ever after for Miranda provided by Alonso's handsome son and heir Ferdinand (Brian Isaac Phillips, fresh from an Ensemble Theatre internship).

        Bizarre: Apparently the pre-show starts about 7:30 p.m. (curtain is at 8 p.m.) with the cast putting up the “rigging” that will be the ship. But (at least on opening night) once they've finished the work (which is essentially putting up a few white sheets) the guys stand around on stage, clearly not quite sure what to do with themselves and not too adept at improv.

        Talk about undercutting one of theater's great opening scenes, The Tempest's storm at sea.

        Bizarre: What's with the lights, which keep going on and off, on stage and in the audience?

        Bizarre: What's with the awful fake mustache on Alonso?

        Bizarre: How come the posh folks meander out on deck in their chic evening wear when the sailors are all in slickers, trying to save the ship from foundering? How stupid are these people?

        Bizarre: Who told Mr. Verciglio that all it takes to make a character is some red body wash and crossing his wrists and wiggling his fingers? Is that supposed to mean something?

        Bizarre: The spirits of the island, looking like escapees from Mummenchanz in nifty body bags.

        Bizarre: The dreadful “Ariel” song at the end, which ought to have the Bard rolling in his grave. After two-plus hours of some of Shakespeare's most beautiful language, this third-rate ditty makes you want to push somebody overboard.

        I could go on (and on), but it's too depressing.

        More than bizarre is director Jasson Minadakis' choice to eliminate the play's key relationship, between Prospero and Ariel. In this production, everything that isn't bizarre is pedestrian. The only fresh ideas in this Tempest are bad ones.

        Seven new company members make their debut in The Tempest. Mr. Riopelle actually showed up at the end of last season, to good effect in Two Gentlemen of Verona. I suspect he could be a good Prospero under better circumstances.

        This Tempest is peculiarly emotionally disconnected, individually and en masse. It's typical for the festival to have to get a couple of plays under its belt with every new season before the actors mesh into a company. That might also explain why the ensemble hasn't yet captured the fierce energy that can cover a thousand ills.

        None of the new folks make you sit up and take notice the way company members like Matthew Humphreys and Deb Heinig did from their first performances, but Mr. Riopelle makes you look forward to his next time on stage and so does Mr. Davies. Mr. Davies' program bio notes that he has a couple of solo shows. Maybe he'll perform them here.

        The Tempest, through Oct. 10, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, 719 Race St. 381-2273.


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