Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of an eerie desert isle where a band of royal castaways is marooned in style. No, it’s not a new sitcom or reality show. It’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a supernatural classic of haunting beauty playing for the next two weekends at the Bowie Playhouse. It’s also the Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s last production in that space before moving to new space on Chinquapin Round Road in the fall.
The story begins before the action with Prospero (Brian Keith MacDonald), the deposed Duke of Milan, living in exile for 12 years with his teenage daughter Miranda (Jenny Donovan). All that time he has been plotting his retribution. Toward that end, he has become a powerful sorcerer by studying books provided for him by his confederate Gonzalo (Joe Palka), who spirited the father and daughter to safety along with basic comforts like a vast library complete with ornate shelving and a leather armchair. In Prospero’s service are a vile semi-human, Caliban (Alex Zavistovich), rightful heir to the island and son of a now-deceased witch, and three sprites: Ariel (Raven Bonniwell), Ceres (Emily Samuelson) and Juno (Micaela Mannix). All help Prospero exact his revenge on his traitorous brother, Antonio (Grant Cloyd). Thus the eponymous tempest, a supernatural storm conjured by Ariel, which is so ferocious you would swear you were caught in a real microburst if only the theater sprinklers were employed.
The villainous Duke Antonio is shipwrecked along with his co-conspirator Sebastian (Elliott Kashner) and a royal entourage including King Alonso (Brian McDermott), Prince Ferdinand (David Mavricos), Prospero’s old friend Gonzalo, the jester Trinculo (Charlie Retzlaff), the drunken steward Stephano (Kiernan McGowan) and the noblewoman Adrian (Amie Cazel).
Prince Ferdinand, separated from his shipmates, is delivered to Prospero and Miranda by Ariel so the youngsters may fall in love and marry, as is Miranda’s birthright. What follows is a series of trials involving frustrated lovers, treasonous assassins who play upon Caliban’s resentment, comical inebriates and generally clueless witnesses to supernatural intervention in the natural order of things. Finally, Prospero is returned to power, Ariel is freed from his service and Caliban is presumably left in peace at his master’s imminent departure.
As with many of Shakespeare’s works, the plot can be overwhelming, so don’t try to follow it too closely. Just bear in mind that this play is more about witchcraft than story, and enjoy the ride.
This production is technically a more impressive show than Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s typical fare. The simple set features a sheer curtain of oceanic scrim enhanced by dramatic special effects such as strobes, thunder and wind that either comes from a machine or supreme acting. A disorienting sonic décor of shifting chordal suspensions composed for this show by Gregg Martin keeps the magic alive throughout. The sprites cavort in bodysuits of a rich aquatic palette, while the aristocrats glory in resplendent crimson and gold.
Major performers behind the mystery are Bonniwell and her sprites, Samuelson and Mannix, who gambol and tease and seethe and flit around the auditorium in a dreamy suspension between sea and sky from the moment the doors open until closing curtain, their every move a nuanced ballet. Zavistovich’s man-monster, with his dreadlocks, crazed eyes and rabid smile, menaces and cowers in extremes of animalistic power and vanquished powerlessness. Yet he is an eloquent beast. MacDonald commands the stage as if it truly were his home, and Retzlaff’s physical comedy makes him the king of fools.
This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss, but you can’t watch it from your porch. Get your tickets now, before they vanish.
Director: Jay D. Brock. Scenic designer: Andrew Cohen. Choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lighting designer: Catharine Girardi. Costume designer: Maggie Cason. Composer/sound designer: Gregg Martin.
Playing thru Aug 17, F at 8pm; Sa at 2pm & 8pm; Su at 3pm at Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $30 with discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.