At Shakespeare & Company, "Temoest" rages against a dying light

LENOX — "Be not afeard," Caliban tells the drunken manservant Stephano as the invisible Ariel stirs the atmosphere on Prospero's magical kingdom in "The Tempest."

"The isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not."

The noises emanating from Shakespeare & Company's new outdoor Roman Garden Theatre — where "The Tempest" is running through Sept. 3 — may not hurt, but delights and sweet airs are in short supply.

Volume is everything in this semi-Bare Bard production performed late in the afternoon by a cast of nine, led by Nigel Gore as an angry, snarling Prospero who, 12 years after having been banished from Milan and his post as duke by his usurping brother, Antonio, seizes an opportunity to exact revenge and reclaim what is rightfully his. With Antonio's fleet sailing nearby, Prospero engineers a storm that forces Antonio and his retinue onshore to a magical kingdom, Prospero's in which the ground rules are unlike anything this bunch has experienced.

Let me pause here to say that the new 287-seat Roman Garden Theatre, with seating on four sides of the multi-leveled stage, is an accommodating space that fits snugly in a corner of Shakespeare & Company's property bordered on one edge by the Tina Packer Playhouse terrace, on two edges by St. Martin's Hall and nearly all around by shielding trees and shrubbery.

It's a snug, intimate, welcoming setting that, for its inaugural presentation, is offering s production that seems determined — at least in terms of volume — to reach out far beyond its perimeters but with little substance underneath.

Director Allyn Burrows has moved Shakespeare's play from its Elizabethan period to the 1890s, near the end of the Victorian era, and in a setting that is more evocative, Burrows said in an interview, of Canada's maritime provinces. Indeed, from a visual standpoint, Burrows' production draws on the folk mythology of that rustic culture, particular in the form of Ariel's straw-figure agents.

There is a sense of the earth throughout this production, not only in terms of the straw and reeds that weave their way through Jim Youngerman's set, but also in terms of physical and verbal expression, particularly Tamara Hickey's fascinatingly conceived Ariel — a tall, sharply angular figure, born of earth and air; an efficient, businesslike creature who knows what she must do in order to gain, at long last, the freedom Prospero has promised for so long and denied her for just as long.

That palpable feeling of earth is captured with even more singular enchantment in Ella Loudon's beguiling Miranda. There is nothing ethereal or vaporous about this Miranda. She is perfectly at home within her natural environment. She's a handful for Prospero; mindful and respectful, yes, but also headstrong and with a keen mind of her own. But watch Loudon's Miranda when the world intrudes with the arrival of Antonio and his retinue and her eyes survey the men, especially the young Ferdinand (played with beguiling ingenuousness and male imperative by Deaon Griffin-Pressley), son of the King of Naples, who falls for Miranda the very moment he sets eyes on her.

"O brave new world, that hath such people in't," Miranda says, her eyes bearing down on Ferdinand. Her face lights up, like a kid who finds one surprise after another under the Christmas tree, beautifully wrapped and just waiting to be opened. Rarely has sexual awakening been portrayed with such an expert blend of naivete and certainty. Literally and figuratively, Miranda heartily embraces this new world of possibility. There is nothing coy about their first kiss. By the same token, it is as pure as it is certain. This brave new world has a complexity she never imagined could have existed. As willing and eager as she is to take the plunge, she also is confused, mystified, bewildered.

Gore's Prospero is an angry, bitter, resentful man, given to fits of anger and bombast and it wears thin. Much to Gore's credit, however, his Prospero does rise to paternal occasion in his scenes with Loudon's feisty, headstrong Miranda. The love for his daughter shows, even when he needs to apply parental control. The moment in which Prospero willingly gives Miranda over to Ferdinand is genuinely touching and invests Burrows' production with an authenticity and emotional texture it misses elsewhere.

With the notable exceptions of Hickey, Loudon and Griffin-Pressley, the members of Burrows' cast lock themselves in attitudes and postures from the moment of their first entrances and remain there.

Overall, the storytelling feels disjointed, rambling, unfocused, undisciplined

Shakespeare & Company last mounted "The Tempest" — with Olympia Dukakis as Prospero — in the summer of 2012 as the first production in the newly rechristened Tina Packer Playhouse. Now, it's back as the inaugural attraction in a long-sought outdoor venue. But, like the sooty coal black that envelops Jason Asprey's barking, overwrought Caliban, this production absorbs what's left of the day's fading light rather than shine with a radiance of its own.

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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