The 49th Colorado Shakespeare Festival began with life imitating art, as the heavens opened up and the first performance of The Tempest, the bard's final work, was postponed. This turned out to be a fortuitous bit of magic, just as the storm in the play, because by the time we made it back, the actors got off to a much better start.
As one would expect from the world's greatest dramatist and poet, his swan song unveils a few tricks that had hitherto been hidden up his sleeve. By any account, this is the most symbol-laden work in the canon. Here the playwright likens himself to a duke, Prospero, whose kingdom has been usurped, much like the real life of Edward de Vere, whose authorship of the plays and sonnets had been supplanted by a grain dealer who couldn't sign his name the same way twice and who raised an illiterate daughter.
In a spate of wishful thinking by the author, Prospero uses his magical powers to bring those who conspired against him to an isolated island, where he lives with his virtuous and fair daughter Miranda, his artful, sprightly aide, Ariel, and his savage and deformed slave, Caliban. By the time he is done exorcising a dozen years of frustration and addressing everyone's karma, Prospero undergoes his own transformation and, with an elegant flourish, says goodbye to the stage.
|Tara MacMullen as Miranda,|
Matt Penn as Prospero,
and Benjamin T. Koucherik as Caliban
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
It is indeed an stirring curtain call and one that requires a Prospero equal to the magnitude and gravity of such epic circumstances. Matt Penn, whose performance last year as Iago was one for the ages, again unveils the complex psychological and emotional truths of a key character in the canon. This, combined with notable support work— particulary Tara MacMullen's warm-hearted Miranda and Christopher Young's elegant Ariel—and some stylish period costumes, makes for a memorable evening.
The highlight of Robert N. Schmidt's sparse set is Prospero's regal study and the handsome books and astrolabe found there. The horizontal blue neon bulbs that traverse the background and serve as the horizon are an interesting concept, but too painful to be stuck with for the entire evening.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's The Tempest runs through August 18th in repertory with Merchant of Venice and As You Like It at the University of Colorado-Boulder. 303-492-0554 or at www.coloradoshakes.org.