A new opportunity for free al fresco Shakespeare launches this week in Freeport: The Freeport Shakespeare Festival stages its premiere, a richly laden production of The Tempest, from August 3-6 in L.L. Bean's Discovery Park, directed by Julie George-Carlson, who is also founder and Artistic Director.
Sitting in on its final dress rehearsal, I found that this production represents a massive undertaking, with all the theatrical bells and whistles and a fairly astonishing array of supporters, including L.L. Bean and the Davis Family Foundation. Its appointments include a full scaffolding and lights over the stage, which is billowed with diaphanous white; the 17-member Greater Freeport Community Chorus Singers; and a live orchestra that includes timpani, a gong, and two sets of vibes. Even Freeport's Figures of Speech Theatre is in on the action, contributing impressive tall puppets.
An interesting alliance of performers join talents here, both local and imported, from Equity actors to a slew of sprightly grade-schoolers (who make scintillating work of the sprites' magic, fluttering and giggling around with unearthly delight). Michael Howard of Naked Shakespeare and Kevin O'Leary of Lanyard Theatre are here as Alonso and Sebastian, and I am delighted to have caught long-lost Portland performer Jonathan Guimont in this appearance before he heads back to acting in New York; his Antonio simply oozes menace. As Miranda and Ferdinand, Carlson pairs the earnest and lovely young actors Grania Power and Benedetto Robinson, whom I recently enjoyed as Juliet and Romeo in Naked Shakespeare's youth ensemble.
As airy sprite Ariel, James Hoban (most recently on stage at Mad Horse) feels a little earth-bound; with the gravitas of his movements and his bare chest painted with briary body make-up, he doesn't strike as much contrast as he might with Caliban, that quintessence of earth, here a wonderful, mud-smeared, burlap-sacked Matthew Power. As his master, Dennis McLernon's Prospero is articulate, graceful, and engaging, though at the end of the play I missed the wistfulness of the aging man as he gives up in one fell swoop his magic, his daughter, and his island, and suddenly knows new intimations of his mortality.
This show's gorgeous puppets, colored lights, and elaborate percussion accompanying the visions will satisfy anyone hankering for lavish production values, though they sometimes have the effect of making the island's magical doings seem more substantial than you might expect of spirits. Come early to set up your blanket before the 7 pm start of the marvelous choral treatment of the Bard's greatest hits.
The Tempest | Freeport Shakespeare Festival | August 3-6 at 7 pm | at LL Bean Discovery Park Stage, Freeport | 207.865.9299 | Free