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'Tempest': Go see it before it blows over

HSF casts spell with sprightly 'Tempest'

Bill Blando of Patriot-News

The Tempest, the current production by the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival, might also have been called "All's Well That Ends Well." But Shakespeare already used that title. And the festival folks could for good reason have altered the latter only slightly by proclaiming that "all that goes well ends well." For this sprightly staged complex romantic comedy is nearing the end of its run. Three performances remain: Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday's matinee.

The analogy about endings could be taken a step further. Prospero, the play's major character, gives up his magical powers to return to his former career, that of the duke of Milan. The case could be made that the Bard saw his own magical powers slipping away and, thus, speculates the Encyclopedia International, Shakespeare intended to make "The Tempest" his last play.

But he gave it one more shot, completing "Henry VIII" two years later. Three years after that, he died at about 52.

On the Gamut stage, Prospero receives a surprisingly low-keyed interpretation from J. Clark Nicholson, despite the fact that he's surrounded by many who wish him ill and plot against him, among them his brother, Antonio, who had already usurped Prospero's dukedom.

Prospero's only advocates when we meet him on a deserted island are his daughter, Miranda, and Ariel, a sprite who commands three other spirits.

The play opens eerily as the four spirits in several shades of brown are seen writhing in a dark setting onstage to music that sounds a little like something from PBS's "Echoes."

Then we meet Caliban, a slave put under a spell by Prospero, leaving him deformed and angry. But he is the only other man whom the sweet and innocent Miranda has ever seen, which understandably makes Miranda wary of all mankind other than her father.

Ariel, played by Melissa Dunphy, who slithers and slides on the stage and leaps and climbs all over it, seeks to be freed from Prospero's spell and serves as his eyes and ears. She also plays a recorder competently, adding to the production's eerie tone.

But most of the other characters, the survivors of a storm at sea conjured up by Prospero, appear all too human, displaying traits of greed, ambition, lust, foolhardiness, naivete and a taste for the grape.

There's Alonso, the king of Naples; Antonio, Prospero's conniving brother; Gonzalo, and old and wise counselor with an attitude; and Sebastian, Alonso's brother, with an agenda of his own. Also, Trinculo, a jester; and Stephano, Alonso's butler, who have (to put it euphemistically) a carefree view of the world. Not to be overlooked is Alonso's son, Ferdinand, who is Miranda's Prince Charming. Daniel Puentes handles the lovestruck lad with the look and sound of the smitten while Amber E. Wagner is equally effective.

Several cast members play dual roles, and they make their transitions with such competence one hardly notices their double duty. Robert Campbell plays the happy-go-lucky Stephano and the treacherous Antonio; Yaz Mariyam seems to have great fun portraying Trinculo, a spirit and a mariner; the same could be said of Doug Durlacher as Sebastian and the twisted Caliban; Mark Robinson and Jacquie Williams, the other two spirits, and Ariel (Dunphy) also handle lesser parts seamlessly.

Director Karen Ruch has shown skill and imagination in putting together all the loose ends, while Mike Banks' original and borrowed music adds to the aura, aided and abetted by Nicholson's stage setting and Kate Magill's costumes. Prospero, who utters one of Shakespeare's most famous lines, "We are such stuff as dreams are made of," asks his audience to "let your indulgence set me free." It's a fair request and a fitting end to a well-done production.

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