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Connecticut Theater

"The Tempest”
Shakespeare on the Sound, Rowayton

The ambience always works in favor of the play at Rowayton’s glorious Pinkney Park. And this time around, with Shakespeare on the Sound’s current offering of “The Tempest,” it is especially so. When Shakespeare’s text speaks of shipwrecks and gales, nature accommodates by producing the real thing--winds which shake the nearby trees and fill the sky with menacing clouds! And it is always gratifying to sit on the hillside, watching the action on stage, as the sky darkens and small boats bob in the nearby waters.

But as to the production itself, this “Tempest” is less satisfying than previous SOS offerings. The first act moves slowly on a bare stage. Director Lisa Brailoff has chosen a plain circular platform, its starkness relieved only by surrounding drapes (which presumably represent the sea). The general effect is sterile and does not inspire the players, it would seem. Not even the sailors pulling the ropes to stabilize the sinking ship seem to put much energy into their efforts.

But fortunately the second act fares better. Not only is the text more interesting, providing better fodder for the actors, but nature cooperates as well. At this point, the sun has set and the stage lighting for “The Tempest” comes into its own. In its several fantasy scenes, colorful variegated lights give off a dazzling display, affecting both actors and audience.

Ezra Barnes (SOS’s artistic director), who plays Prospero, is a case in point. Usually a fine actor, this time around he appears stilted in his opening scenes, as if he were reciting lines rather than getting into character. But he comes into his own in the second act, infusing his Prospero with dignity, strength, ruefulness, and warmth.

Marjan Neshat is a lovely, affecting Miranda from the moment she wanders on stage, ragged and barefoot. No wonder Ferdinand (played in strong, manly fashion by Stephen Graybill) loves her at first sight. As to others, Chandler Parker gives a powerful performance as the deformed Caliban, though one wishes he were made to look more monster-like and threatening. And Jack Ferver moves with the grace of a leading ballet dancer, turning Ariel into a sprite-like being from another other world.

The fact is that Shakespeare wrote this piece presumably toward the end of his career, and “The Tempest,” in our view, is not his best. So many of the plot ideas seem borrowed bits and pieces, tokens from earlier works. There is a weariness that seems to imbue the comedy, felt all too clearly at times in this production.

-- Irene Backalenick
June 17, 2005

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