The islander

Mixed Magic’s Tempest
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  July 30, 2008

All across America this summer, theater troupes are performing Shakespeare’s plays al fresco, from Frisco to Central Park, from Westerly to Pawtucket. Unfortunately for Mixed Magic Theatre, the urban park in which they are currently presenting The Tempest (through August 3) — Veterans’ Memorial Amphitheater — has very little of the sound-blocking foliage of many such arenas. It’s on a busy corner, with motorcycles, fire engines, and high-revving cars passing by.

It’s to the credit of the cast of The Tempest, however, that many of the actors are so engaging that I didn’t even notice the city noises until the momentary silence of a scene change. And even that doesn’t happen very often, for director Jonathan T.M. Pitts-Wiley has kept his crew on a steady pace — through lighting difficulties, audience shiftings, and any unexpected interruptions from the task at hand — to give us those wonderful lines that Shakespeare penned at the end of his career, when he called this play a “comedy.”

Yes, there are some funny moments, particularly in the long sequence between the primitive island man Caliban and two drunken sailors from the ship that has foundered offshore. But, in Pitts-Wiley’s interpretation, we also see more clearly the enslavement of both Caliban and the spirit Ariel to the sorcerer Prospero as a commentary on the colonialism that was just beginning in England and would spread throughout the globe.

We also wonder about Prospero’s former behavior, as the Duke of Milan, before his banishment, with daughter Miranda, to this far-off isle. His dastardly brother Antonio, in league with the King of Naples, Alonso, is blamed for that exile, which has lasted 12 years, but in Prospero’s harsh and double-dealings with Caliban and Ariel, we question his part in those events. In these days of political deception on every front, we also wonder about even his benign manipulations, i.e. calling up a tempest to wreck the ship on which he has divined that his old enemies are sailing — though not intending to have them drown — and bringing his daughter together with Ferdinand, the son of Alonso.

Matt Fraza as Prospero and Nicole Conlon as Miranda lead off The Tempest with an explication of that long-ago plot, and their strong characterizations draw us into the familiar story. But it is the enslaved beings, with Cedric Lilly as Caliban and Sarah Pierce as Ariel, who all but steal the show. Each time they appear, they are so captivating, so much inside their roles, that we can’t take our eyes off them. Ariel’s music, through Pierce’s voice and flute-playing, are as enchanting as her sprightly manner— she seems to fly whenever she exits the stage.

Lilly, for his part, has the even more demanding role of showing us Caliban’s baser nature — when he’s accused of attempted rape of Miranda, he admits he would have populated the island with little Calibans — and also the source of his anger at Prospero — that the island had basically belonged to him after the death of his exiled mother Sycorax, that he had taught the outcasts Prospero and Miranda where to find water, food, and refuge on the isle, and he had then been locked into a cave and forced to do Prospero’s bidding. This is a complicated characterization, and Lilly pulls it off with a grounded understanding of Caliban and also with well-modulated diction, gesture, and tone.

Other standouts are Rudy Cabrera as the passionate-to-the-hilt-of-his-sword Ferdinand, Yosa Yon as the meandering, drunken Stephano, and her/his blathering sidekick Carlos Campbell as Trinculo. Director Pitts-Wiley has proven once again that gender-blind, culturally-blind casting is no impediment to a performance — though it’s up to the individual actors to make it work. 

Related: Spirits + sprites, Looking back, going forward, Play by Play: January 29, 2010, More more >
  Topics: Theater , William Shakespeare, Rudy Cabrera, Cedric Lilly,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   EMOTION IN MOTION  |  April 02, 2014
    When Festival Ballet Providence started their in-studio series, “Up Close On Hope,” more than 10 years ago, the vision was to give up-and-coming choreographers and dancers a stage less overwhelming and more intimate on which to find their footing.
  •   A SOUND APPROACH  |  March 05, 2014
    When the Brooklyn-based Mark Morris Dance Group takes the stage at the Vets this Saturday at 8 pm, the audience will get a lot more than just the expressive movement of dance.
  •   THE EVANGELIST OF TAP  |  January 29, 2014
    “Tap dance has been around since air,” Glover says, “and I want to bring more awareness and seriousness to the art form."
  •   LASTING IMPRESSIONS  |  November 06, 2013
    In the current “Up Close On Hope” series at Festival Ballet Providence, there are two stunning and emotion-drenched pieces that are an excellent example of what dance can do.
  •   AN INCREDIBLE JOURNEY  |  October 30, 2013
    With renewed appreciation of circus performers in the ’70s (Big Apple Circus) and the elevation of circus skills to artistic performance (Cirque du Soleil), many incarnations of circuses and cirques have followed.

 See all articles by: JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ