DTC's Tempest Offers Magical Misery Tour

Kitchen Dog's Vibrator Play fails to satisfy.

Starting the fall theater season seeing Shakespeare is like being served a big dose of cod liver oil as an aperitif. The stuff is hard to swallow, but you know it's supposed to be good for you. You just hope that what comes after is more enjoyable.

Dallas Theater Center, for the third year running, has opened its latest season at the Wyly Theatre with a Shakespeare play. This time it's The Tempest, classified as one of the romances, but really an angry drama filled with men and monsters doing nasty things to one another. Among the Bard's cod liver plays — the ones every major theater does because they think they have to — it's the bitterest.

To make it smoother to digest, DTC's artistic director Kevin Moriarty has taken liberties with the 400-year-old script, trimming and tightening it down to a briskly paced 95 minutes (with no intermission). Things get off to a smashing start as the talky shipwreck sequence is condensed and updated into a plane crash. Seeing Alonso, king of Naples, and his men in sharp black suits and uniforms sitting in two rows of airline seats is a strong visual pow. As a storm tears the plane apart, the men rise and line up along the edge of the stage. Behind them their seats whoosh backward, sucked into a dark chasm in the floor.

Abbey Siegworth and Chamblee Ferguson as Miranda and Prospero conjure some nice moments in Dallas Theater Center's The Tempest.
Karen Almond
Abbey Siegworth and Chamblee Ferguson as Miranda and Prospero conjure some nice moments in Dallas Theater Center's The Tempest.


The Tempest continues through October 9 at the Wyly Theatre. Call 214-880-0202 or visit dallastheatercenter.org. In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play continues through October 8 at Kitchen Dog Theater. Call 214-953-1055.

In a flash, the thunder and lightning subside and designer Beowulf Boritt's scenery transforms into a bright, sun-bleached, enchanted island. There the crash survivors, scattered on various beaches, encounter the magician Prospero, his teenage daughter Miranda, the sprite Ariel and the unhappy creature Caliban. Within the action of the play, which takes place in one long afternoon, murder plots hatch, romance flowers and relationships, including some longstanding feuds, resolve in a peaceful way.

There are long speeches, as you expect with Shakespeare, but there are also comedy and music. Ariel's songs for this production were composed by Daniel Baker and Aaron Meicht of New York's Broken Chord group. As sung by young Broadway star Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (the only import for this show), they make a lovely and ethereal break from torrents of words. And how strangely beautiful this Ariel looks, darting around like an albino Nijinsky. Bare-chested and ice-blond, Herdlicka wears special contact lenses that give Ariel's eyes a birdlike glint. He's a perfect fairy, flying, sliding around the edges of the island scenery with weightless grace.

The Tempest, this one anyway, rushes to pile up bewildering situations. Prospero, played with brooding majesty by DTC company member Chamblee Ferguson, has lived in exile for a dozen years with Miranda, who's supposed to be about 15 (you have to forget that here as actress Abbey Siegworth plays her with the innocence of a 40-year-old Real Housewife). When Miranda meets Prince Ferdinand (the angular, sensitive Steven Walters), she falls in love. He's the first man besides her father she's ever seen and besides, on an uninhabited island, Mr. Right Now beats waiting for Mr. Right.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on Survivor: Shakespeare Edition, the king of Naples (Matthew Tomlanovich) grieves, thinking his son Ferdinand has died in the crash. The king's brother Sebastian (Christopher Carlos) and Prospero's long-estranged sibling Antonio (J. Brent Alford) see an opportunity for building an alliance. If they can stab the king and his counselor (Jerry Russell), they can take power. But of what? Some sand dunes and scraggly trees? The plot is foiled by Ariel, who's invisible to everyone but Prospero.

Around the corner, bumbling servants Stephano (Lee Trull) and Trinculo (Cliff Miller) find a case of rum in the wreckage and, drunk as monkeys, stumble over Caliban (Joe Nemmers, in the best performance in the large ensemble). The former master of the island, Caliban, part human, part something scaly, hates Prospero for enslaving him after he put unwelcome moves on Miranda. He wants his new pals to help him kill Prospero, first by destroying his collection of books. Then they will rule the isle together.

Squatting on his haunches, his grotesque body dusted with white sand and splotched like a Dalmatian (Boritt also designed the costume and makeup looks for the show), Nemmers' Caliban is a writhing knot of pain and resentment. His first tastes of booze loosen him up and he talks about the island's mysterious effects in the play's finest bit of poetry:

Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,

That if then had wak'd after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open, and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I wak'd

I cried to dream again.

The Tempest twangles with colorful phrases invented by Shakespeare and still used today. "Into thin air," "strange bedfellows," "brave new world" and "shake it off" all come from this play.

Is it a parable about the crimes of colonialists venturing into the New World? Is it another of Shakespeare's dream plays about the forces of nature man tries but fails to rule? Seen through modern eyes, The Tempest also could be an indictment of politicians who plot evil against rivals when the survival of everyone around them actually depends on civilized cooperation.

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Missin' Intermission
Missin' Intermission

A 95 minute Tempest, huh? What's next the Twitter version? God how I miss adult theater where we get to see the whole play. Elaine, I very much believe you have such a bad taste in your mouth for The Shakes because most Dallas Shakespeare is just terrible. I just saw this last year with Christopher Plummer as Prospero, and I assure you it was not the bitter pill you make it out to be. It was 2 1/2 hours of magic. (pun intended). You can keep the DTC and their short attention span theater. I'm going to go where they have the confidence in me and in themselves to sing the last verse of "Eyesight To The Blind".