Friday, April 1, 2022

"The Tempest" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie's production of Shakespeare's The Tempest, which opened last month and continues through April 16, is "such stuff as dreams are made on." Former Artistic Director Joe Dowling returns to the Guthrie to direct this piece, the first time since he left in 2015. I became a subscriber and fell in love with the Guthrie (and through it, the local theater community) during the Joe Dowling era, so this production feels very familiar and comforting to me, like going home. That big blue beautiful building on the Mississippi (which Joe Dowling shepherded into existence) truly is one of my happy places. And this Tempest is a joyful celebration of the magic we call theater, one that's especially heart-warming after the very long intermission of the last two years. This is the first fully new production of the Guthrie's 2021-2022 pandemic-shortened season (they hosted the touring production of What the Constitution Means to Me last fall, and put a new spin on their 40+ year annual tradition The Christmas Carol), and they've just announced an exciting new 60th anniversary season (my 19th as a subscriber). It feels so good to come home to the Guthrie again.

Regina Marie Williams as Prospera, with John Kroft
and Laakan McHardy (photo by Dan Norman)
This is my third time seeing The Tempest, which is about when I really start to "get it." There's a lot going on here with many interrelated characters, but in short, we have a banished duke Prospera (a woman, one of several gender changes from the original, because guess what Bill, women can act now!), stuck on an island for 12 years with her daughter Miranda and their servant Caliban. Prospera has some magical powers, aided by the spirit Ariel, and uses them to cause a shipwreck that sees her enemies land on the island. Miranda falls in love, Prospera's enemies (including her brother, now the duke) plot more destruction, and a couple of fools have a good time. In the end, Prospera decides to forgive her enemies and free her servants. That's about as feel-good as Shakespeare gets. While not a laugh out loud comedy, this is definitely lighter than Shakespeare's tragedies.* The Guthrie's production is no sparse, stripped down, focused production, but an unhurried one that leans into the revelry of every scene. It feels reminiscent of so many Shakespearean comedies during the Joe Dowling era that were filled with music, dancing, playfulness, color, big showy moments, and quiet moments of poignancy. 

Here are 10 reasons to see The Tempest at the Guthrie before it closes in a few weeks:

  1. Prospera (Regina Marie Williams) andAriel (Tyler Michaels King)
    making plans (photo by Dan Norman)
    #TCTheater veteran Regina Marie Williams is at her best here as Prospera. Powerful and commanding as the bringer of storms, yet showing the deep love and concern of a mother. Every word of Shakespeare's dialogue coming from her mouth is clear and dripping with meaning; the "we are such stuff as dreams are made on" speech brought tears to my eyes.
  2. It's always fun to watch Tyler Michaels King embody an other-worldly character, as he does here with the magical water spirit Ariel. Where his Puck in the Guthrie's 2015 production of Midsummer (also directed by Joe Dowling) was more earthy and grounded, Ariel is all light and air, as Tyler floats around the stage with charming mischief.
  3. The entire cast is fantastic and full of familiar and beloved faces from the #TCTheater scene (Michelle O'Neill, Stephen Yoakam, Bill McCallum, and William Sturdivant, who was also in GRSF's production of The Tempest last summer) and a few welcome newcomers (including Laakan McHardy and John Kroft as the sweetly awkward young lovers).
  4. the fools (Angela Timerman, Harry Smith, and
    Robert Dorfman, photo by Dan Norman)
    While The Tempest isn't a full-out comedy, there are many comic scenes, most of them involving the dream team comedy duo of Angela Timberman and Robert Dorfman as the drunken jester and butler, cavorting with Harry Smith's hissing and miserable creature Caliban (whom I couldn't help but pity).
  5. The show is filled with as much music and dancing as the plot will allow, and then some. With music direction and original composition by Keith Thomas, many of the characters sing their lines on occasion, and there's a full-out joyous musical number by the gods (powerhouses Maya Lagerstam, Cat Brindisi, and David Darrow) that turns into a delightful medley of pop love songs.
  6. The costumes (designed by Ann Hould-Ward) are worth the price of admission alone. From Prospera's deep blue silk pajamas and golden cape, to Ariel's shimmery blue ensemble, to Caliban's dirty rags, to the classic mid-century wardrobe of the shipwrecked city dwellers, to the sheer outrageousness of the gods, it's a feast to behold.
  7. The set and design elements combine to create this magical world, like an abandoned theater on an island, with a huge and beautifully decaying balconied structure, piles of books and props, and even a few old theater seats. The shipwreck scene is a spectacle of light and sound, repeated for good measure. (Scenic design by Alexander Dodge, lighting design by Zavier Pierce, and sound design by Jane Shaw.)
  8. This building, even without the food service (which I'm hoping will re-open next season in a new and exciting way), is a wonderful and welcoming place to spend an evening. With plenty of nearby restaurants to visit pre- or post-show, great views of the river and/or the city from every window, free wifi, and plenty of cozy places to hang out.
  9. This is Shakespeare as it was intended be - fun and playful and accessible, not stuffy or stagnant. There's a reason we keep doing these plays over and over again, and this production reminds us why.
  10. Go see The Tempest simply for the sheer joy and wonder of being ensorcelled by an old story told in a big bold way. It's been way too long.
the revelry (photo by Dan Norman)

*Plot summary borrowed from my review of Theatre Coup d'Etat's 2018 production.