Ariel, the Human World, It’s A Mess: “The Tempest”

The cast of “The Tempest.” Gods, it’s good to see theatre again. Photo by: Evgenia Eliseeva

FREE Shakespeare on the Common
Presented by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Steven Maler
Choreographer/ Movement coaching by Levi Philip Marsman
Sound design and compositions by David Reiffel
COVID Safety Manager by Brian Robillard

July 21-August 8, 2021
Parkman Bandstand, Boston Common
Boston, MA
CommShakes on social media: @commshakes

The Accessibility program dates:
Open Captioning: July 31
Audio description and ASL interpreted performances: August 1 and August 6
Rain Date for all Access services: August 8

Running time is about 110 minutes; there is no intermission.

Register for tickets HERE
COVID-19 restrictions are HERE.

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON, Mass. — Theatre is my favorite thing. To me, there is no greater experience than the communion of theatre. It’s been 17 months, and I have missed live-performance every day. Seeing the cast of The Tempest walk onstage to face our crowd of masked-until-seated strangers brought me to tears. It felt like coming home. 

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company celebrates 25 years of free Shakespeare on Boston Common with their production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It stars John Douglas Thompson as Prospero, a role that fits him like a glove. A cadre of beloved local talent plays major and minor roles.

The Tempest is a comedy about betrayal. Prospero, a scholar and warlock (John Douglas Thompson) is the former and rightful Duke of Milan. He washed up on the shores of an island where this play with music takes place with his baby daughter Miranda (Nora Eschenheimer), many years ago.

Prospero orders his spirit-slave Ariel (John Lam) to conjure a storm to wreck a passing ship. Aboard this wrecked ship is a group of royals: Alonso, the King of Naples (Richard Noble); his son Ferdinand (Michael Underhill), the prince; his treacherous brother, Sebastian (Maurice Emmanuel Parent); and Prospero’s treacherous brother, Antonio (Remo Airaldi), Gonzala (Siobhan Juanita Brown) and other nobles and mariners (ensemble).

Prospero uses his learned sorcery to trick and trial the stranded sea voyagers, in the hopes that he will be avenged for these years of forced exile. Meanwhile, Prospero’s earthy slave, Caliban (Nael Nacer) allies himself with drunken tramps Stephano (Fred Sullivan, Jr.) and Trinculo (John Kuntz) to free himself of Prospero. On another part of the island, Ferdinand and Miranda meet and begin to fall in love. The Tempest examines themes of colonization, enslavement, betrayal, identity and supernatural forces. 

This production is suitable for all ages. There is some light romantic kissing and physical comedy. The 4th wall is briefly broken but sealed up again in quick order.

The Tempest isn’t perfect – there are some questionable accents among other slights- but it might as well be. It’s been a pandemic. Actors, crew and other creators have had to navigate a new normal with abnormal COVID-restrictions while brushing up on their craft. Not everyone spent their pandemic writing Lear like Shakespeare allegedly did in 1564 when the bubonic plague ravaged Stratford-upon-Avon. Barring any heinous faux pas, it is the belief of this critic that everyone gets a six month grace period to get back into the swing of things. 

The physical acting is impressive. It looks like some actors chose to get ripped during quarantine. John Lam suspends the laws of physics as he flits and spins across the stage as Ariel. His counterpart, Nael Nacer executes enthusiastic groveling technique as Caliban. He travels backwards in what appears to be a three-legged dolphin pose while Prospero yanks Caliban’s lead across the stage. Both looked safe and stable which is a testament to the protections of the set crew and choreographer Levi Philip Marsman. 

I wish the music had been properly cited in the program. David Reiffel composed the music for The Tempest and, even though the online program has plenty of room for poetry, the poems set to music aren’t available to read at one’s leisure in the program. Dramaturgy didn’t die with the pandemic. 

Reiffel isn’t credited as composer in every place where his name appears in Tempest-related areas, only as sound designer. I had to ask my press contact who the composer was. It’s a shame because Marta Rymer, Ekemini Ekpo, and Jessica Golden sing Reiffel’s compositions so beautifully. One could see how sirens might draw horny/idiot sailors to the rocky shores of Caliban’s isle if they were singing like Rymer, Ekpo and Golden do.   

Ekemini Ekpo (Ensemble), Marta Rymer (Ensemble), Jessica Golden(Ensemble), and John Lam (Ariel) Photo by: Evgenia Eliseeva

Attendees, please remember to bring an umbrella that you may not use, your bug spray, extra layers, a towel to sit on, and quiet snacks. There is free WiFi (!), please don’t play with your phone during the show. You won’t want to miss any important details of The Tempest because you were doomscrolling. 

We lost our sweet, curmudgeon-cat Izzy to kidney failure back in March. By the end, she was grumpy and extra-farty. She needed a good hose-down but she was (and always will be) our girl. Boston in the rain reminds me of our departed geriatric kitten: it’s uncomfortably moist; you don’t know what or why that smell is; ambient noise is constant; sometimes there’s random screaming.

Boston is a city. The Tempest is visiting, but people still live there.

Tickets for The Tempest are free! Registration is highly recommended for ease of arrival and access to seating. Walkups will be welcome, but, should the audience reach capacity, walkups will be turned away for their own safety. Register just in case.

COVID-19 restrictions are HERE.

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