Miranda (Grace Lamberson), Ferdinand (Hunter Wulff) and Prospero. Below: Caliban (John Stillwaggon) with Prospero.
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Allan S. Ross as Prospero and Kacey Roye as Ariel in The Classic Theatre production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Photos: Siggi Ragnar
February 23, 2017 If you are familiar with Shakepeare’s The Tempest (written ca. 1611), you know about the egocentric sorcerer Prospero, his underhanded brother Antonio, the cruel King Alonzo of Naples or the monstrous, misshapen Caliban. How about a stylish, generally reasonable Prospero, females portraying the brother and the king, or a Caliban who is basically grimy and unkempt instead of frightening? Unconventional updates or  adaptations of this, the shortest and  last of Shakespeare's solo-written  plays, are not at all unusual, but  director Mark McCarver has devised  an especially provocative version as  the latest offering of The Classic  Theatre. According to a profile in the  company newsletter, Mr. McCarver’s  approach is psychological, remaining  true to the text, but ambiguous as to  setting and various aspects or  relationships of the characters. Thus, the island where Prospero, the  overthrown king of Milan and his  daughter, Miranda, have lived in  banishment for 12 years has been  transformed by set designer Jodi  Karjala into a massive library whose  floor is filled with book-related Shakespearean quotes. Because books provide the strength behind Prospero's magical abilities, this makes perfect sense. While at first he remains interested in vengeance against the enemies (first seen behind a scrim) who are purposely shipwrecked during a tempest of his making, Allan S. Ross ultimately turns to forgiveness, displaying congenial, even tender sides as Prospero. Much of this is because his beloved Miranda is so innocent and genteel. Grace Lamberson plays her as naïve but spunky. Never having seen a man other than her father before the shipwreck, it is she who famously speaks of the “brave new world that has such people in 't.” Particularly enjoyable are scenes between her and Ferdinand (Hunter Wulff), son of Prospero's enemy Alonzo, as their relationship grows from instant mutual attraction to jubilant young love. Kacey Roye is irresistible as the mischievous sprite Ariel, the instrument through which most of Prospero's magic is accomplished. As Caliban, the son of an evil witch and only actual native of the island, John Stillwaggon convincingly captures the character's perversity – cruelty, jealousy, foolishness and deep appreciation for his homeland. Those traits are more obvious when they are not obscured by the misshapen, ugly body seen in most productions. The castaways also include the wizard's usurper brother Antonio (angrily drawn by Meredith Bell Alvarez) and his cohort, Alonzo (a perpetually sour Magda Porter) and Alonzo's equally sour but rather stupid son Sebastian (Kelly Hilliard Roush). For comic relief there are the two hilarious chatterbox drunks from the shipwreck, Trinculo (Linda Ford) and Stephano (Rick Clyde), who introduce the bottle to poor, easily manipulated Caliban. The only truly honest one of the lot is Gonzalo (Alison Bridget Chambers), who had helped Prospero and Miranda escape after being overthrown and provided those valuable books. Ms. Karjala designed some especially interesting, attractive costumes in addition to the extraordinary library set, whose details extend to individual volumes hanging among the overhead lights. The action is greatly enhanced by John Coker's atmospheric original music, ranging from rich choir-like blocks to finespun tendrils of sound. Kaitlin Muse is credited as being featured, presumably in wordlessly sung segments. The Tempest is as much about power as it is about forgiveness. However, if some of those receiving forgiveness failed to respond, that does not diminish its power. This strong, intriguing production is illuminating in many ways, but especially that one. Diane Windeler The Tempest runs through March 12 at The Classic Theatre, 1924 Fredericksburg Road. Call 589-8450.
Classic Theatre: The Tempest, by William Shakespeare The magic of forgiveness