Theater review: Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ provides thundering good time

Jesse Barich
Sun Star Contributor

Music brings people together, and that is exactly what happened last weekend at the Empress Theater downtown when Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre came together with local musicians Good Daze to produce Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.

The stage of “The Tempest” became a chaotic harmony of “noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not,” as the bard himself called for. A ship crashed into the stage. A tree was full of spirits. Shakespeare would have been delighted. The audience was.

Ingrid Johnson, a senior studying justice at UAF, said she enjoyed the show. “‘The Tempest’ made a Shakespeare fan out of me,” she said. “The set and cast were dynamic and colorful.”

Those colorful dynamics play out on an enchanted island, where Prospera, the former Duchess of Milan, has been exiled. She and her daughter Miranda plot revenge against Prospera’s political enemies until Prospera’s vengeful heart is softened with a seed of forgiveness. It takes root when she watches her daughter play a duet with her new husband. The island’s spirits harmonize with the couple. Even Caliban, one of the island’s residents who is portrayed as a monster, is moved. “When I waked, I cried to dream again,” he said.

“The Tempest” has been called a tragicomedy and a masterpiece because the play’s thought-provoking themes and tragic elements are undercut by a lighter side that makes the audience laugh.

Some of those laughs were provided by UAF students. Hadassah Nelson, a theater major at UAF, plays the role of Antonia. She was full of smug remarks and little quips for fellow UAF theater student Andrew Cassel, who plays her cohort Sebastian. One of her more memorable scenes was when she told Sebastian how well her clothes fit after she usurped power from her sister, Prospera (played by FST’s Rebecca Eddy).

There were chuckles to go around. Jon-Kiefer Browne, a UAF graduate who plays Caliban, had his own humorous moments. “The red plague rid you for learning me your language,” was one of them.

Antonia, Prospera and a third character, Gonzala, are three roles that made a gender switch for this play. Shakespeare had originally written the roles for men. In an interview with KUAC last week, Director Tom Robenolt said the decision to switch the roles to female was made while casting the play. The resulting mother-daughter and sister-sister dynamics are an engaging aspect of the show, he said.

If you want to be engaged by ‘The Tempest,’ the show runs until March 7; Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:15 and Sunday at 2 p.m. Student tickets are $15.

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