Saturday August 4, 2012

LENOX -- There is providence in the change of a vowel; a wholsale shift in tectonic plates as Prospero becomes Prospera in Shakespeare & Company's production of "The Tempest" on the Tina Packer Playhouse stage in repertory with "King Lear" through
Aug. 19.

Change Prospero's gender from male to female -- as director Tony Simotes does with the casting of Olympia Dukakis in the role -- and the stakes become just a bit higher as a parent-child relationship takes on a diferent texture; gains in layers of complexity, rivalry, coming together.

Prospera is not just any mother -- this is a tough. hard, vengeful woman; deprived of political power by her scheming brother, the present Duke of Milan; exiled and washed up on the shore of a spirit-inhabited island over which she now holds sway.

Dukakis' Prospera bears an earthy soul and demeanor, as of some peasant stock had seeped into her DNA at some point. She is, at times, commanding as she unleashes unspent fury and resentment at the betrayal and injustice that have brought her to this island. At other moments, she vaguely defined, at best; ineffectual.

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It's not until Prospera's turn that Dukakis grabs control. It begins with recognition, acknowledgment acceptance that descends upon her in the "Our revels now are ended " monologue. Mortality weighs upon her. An affecting poignancy infuses Dukakis' Prospera as she seeks to make amends and bring harmony, not only among those who betrayed her but also to Caliban (a wonderfully bitter, vengeful, boyishly playful Rocco Sisto). As she leans over to forgive Caliban, she grazes his cheek with her hand; the act of a loving mother acknowledging her own responsibility for the misshapen emotional state of this, in effect, orphan son.

Nature and nurture hold their sway in Simotes' production which often feels as if it's really about the dynamics between the two.

Scott Killian has created a vibrant nature soundscape and a vivid score that catches the magic, mystery and force of nature that feed the island.

Kristin Wold is a wonderfully sprightly, resoirceful, dutiful Ariel, Prospera's nimble resourceful, go-to spirit.

Ryan Winkles is thoroughly engaging as the young Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, who loses his heart and his head the moment he encounters Prospera's daughter (a radiant Merrit Janson). His natural ebullience and openness make him a perfect fit for the atmosphere on Prospera's island.

Jonathan Epstein weighs in a little too long and self-indugently as the besotted Stephano, butler to Alonso (Thomas L. Rindge), King of Naples, and Timothy Douglas forces matters as Stephano's buffoonish sidekick, Trinculo, jester to the king.

Simotes and his cast certainly catch Shakespeare's interest in the notion of change; of one generation giving way to the next; of one world order giving way to a younger, fresher vision.

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But as Prospera and company prepare to leave this enchanted island and return to their Italy, one can't help but wonder, even if Simotes never directly raises the issue, about the nature of the brave new world toward which they are heading.

It certainly occurs to Ariel and Caliban about tje future they face in their own brave new world as, newly freed by Prospera, they regain control of their island. As the lights fade, apprehension and uncertainty faintly play across their faces.

The talk in the world of "The Tempest" is of Italy as it was in Shakepeare's time -- a collection of city-states. The real world of the time in which Simotes sets Shakespeare's characters loose held less promise and hope. The hope Prospera, Miranda, Ferdinand and the others carry with them feels, in many respects, like so many candles in the wind.