Before Harry Potter discovered the world of magic, Shakespeare’s Prospero was commanding storms and spirits. Switchyard Theatre Company’s production of The Tempest conjures up its own bit of enchantment with some creative staging and captivating performances.
Different parks around the triangle area provide the backdrop for Switchyard; I attended the performance at the JCC in Raleigh. A covered platform with wooded areas surrounding it worked as the stage, and characters entered from various points around an audience perched on benches. Director and sound designer, Max Kaufman, effectively transported the audience to the magical island where Prospero has been stranded with her daughter.
Although this is one of the more accessible of Shakespeare’s plays, this production takes some additional and much appreciated extra steps to engage the audience. Characters are clearly introduced and identified with an added layer of color-coding within the Aerial Sanders’ costuming to effectively deliniate relationships.
The Tempest opens with Prospero using some supernatural powers to create a storm that causes a shipwreck. A former duke, the sorcerer wants to reclaim her title and, conveniently, the passengers that washed ashore are those who conspired against her. With the help of her less-than-loyal servant, Caliban, and a bit of mischief by the spirit, Ariel, Prospero will exact revenge as well as generate some match-making.
Mary K. Rowland commands the role of Prospero., Traditionally played by a male actor, Rowland masterfully manipulates much of the ensuing action. Her impressive talent is on full display from her monologues to her interactions. An early scene with her daughter, Miranda, Dani Coan offering some entertaining antics of eye-rolling teen boredom, is laugh out loud funny. And Rowland’s direct addresses to the audience are captivating.
Also impressive is Xenon Winslow as the energetic and limber spirit, Ariel. Dressed in a sleek body suit and some illuminating eye makeup, she leaps, climbs, and flits about like a trained gymnast, delightfully doing Prospero’s bidding. Ariel has a fondness for pranks, and her antics are mesmerizing as she taunts and wreaks havoc with those who’ve been washed ashore.
Speaking of those other folks wandering on the island: King Alonso (Randle Kennedy), his brother, Sebastian (Michael Parker), and Prospero’s brother, Antonio (Naveed Moeed),are the conspirators responsible for causing Prospero’s isolation. Parker and Moeed play well off of each other and display some humorous, if unsuccessful villainy, in their attempt to dispose of the king and take the crown. The ever optimistic Gonzalo (David McEwen) travels with the group but is always a bit oblivious to what is happening around him. McEwen also offers some moments of great comedy, especially as he is mocked by Sebastian and Antonio.
King Alonso’s son, Ferdinand (Kimmy Fiorentino), has turned up on another part of the island. While his father fears he has drowned, this young prince has stumbled upon Prospero’s daughter Miranda and instantly falls in love. Fiorentino is absolutely delightful as the awkward royalty who is over the heels besotted, willing to endure whatever trials Prospero generates to obtain the hand of Miranda. Together, Fiorentino and Coan generate a sweet, and touching romantic connection, giggling and flirting like young teens..
The fourth island inhabitant, Caliban (John Paul Middlesworth), a reluctant servant of Prospero, roams around as a savage child of the wood. Middlesworth gives full vent to the demented side of this uncivilized being, and has some particularly memorable moments when he encounters two other shipwreck survivors. Trinculo (Abbe Frank) and Stephano (Nicholas Hopf) create a whole other level of comedy in their drunken escapades, recruiting and corrupting Caliban along the way.
As this is a comedy, no characters are harmed in the production, and all is wrapped up handily. Prospero confronts those who have betrayed her, but ultimately forgives them. Her daughter will wed the young prince, the villains slink away, and the spirit Ariel is freed. Prospero’s magic is no longer needed, but the spell she has cast stays with us.
For more information about Switchyard Theatre Company, visit https://switchyardtheatrecompany.org/.