This Is Such Stuff As Good Theater Is Made On

tempest-2Though Steppenwolf has no history of mounting the plays of William Shakespeare, their current production of The Tempest proves them to be more capable and creative than companies that have made their careers on reviving The Bard, in New York and elsewhere. This ensemble production, magically crafted by director Tina Landau, is stacked with solid performances, captivating designs, and enchanting music. The most uniting element between the direction, design, and performances is their bold choices, the commitment to those choices, and the ensuing successes that are the outcome. Landau, recognizing the otherworldly elements of this play, opts to strongly induce a suspension of disbelief rather than tangibly spell out the fantasy of Shakespeare dream-like island. Suggesting rather than showing, she provides the audience with springboards for their imagination, making no effort to hide the wheels of this device while germinating the field for far greater landscapes than could ever be created on stage. The inclusion of multi-media, a haunting sound design, and acrobatic spirits help to reinforce this realm where anything is possible. Frank Galati’s Prospero is more of a bookish, doting father who happens to have supernatural connections rather than being an all-powerful sorcerer, thus exploring the qualities that remind us that Propspero is both human and flawed. Mike Nussbaum (Gonzalo) is the strongest with the language and speaks the speech while bringing to life an aging man of the sort likely to draw you into an uninvited yet pleasant conversation on a city bus. Jon Michael Hill’s Ariel is athletic and beams with an energy becoming of a sprite along with the three other spirits that make up his entourage. The production’s drunken clowns, Tim Hopper (Trinculo) and Yasen Peyankov (Stephano), work together to create a perfect balance in their comic attempts to make sense of their unlikely situation. As is the case when Shakespeare is done right, these actors make the language their own and are able to communicate its message to the audience sans pretension. Josh Schmidt’s original score, an interesting mix of rap and electronic music, forms an unlikely, happy coupling with the words of Shakespeare’s songs. These songs are beautifully performed by the cast members who sing them, relying on the simplicity of the human voice rather than strutting with the formality of trained vocalists. This production provides an entertaining and deeply moving experience, both as an ideal introduction for those not familiar with Shakespeare and as an extremely satisfying evening for those already in love with his words and characters. It would serve The Public Theater well to take a lesson from this production in the evenness of its direction and appropriateness of its adaptations and theatrical devices. - C. Jefferson Thom cj_thomMr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.