The Tempest, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Austin Gardens.
This breezy Tempest never really blows hard. Its sumptuous spectacle–gorgeous pantomime, flamboyant masks, and a classical masque featuring three rainbow-hued goddesses–consoles us for a certain lack of passion in the playing. But if nothing here sets Shakespeare’s text on fire, no one deprives the Bard of his right to dazzle.
Tom Mula and Dale Calandra’s crisp, compressed two-hour staging favors the play’s wisdom and warmth over its darker side. True, almost to the end Mula as Prospero keeps us wondering whether the sorrowing sorcerer will rise above revenge against his shipwrecked enemies. But this is no terrifying earthshaker; renouncing his magic, Mula’s Prospero is already detached, already part of “such stuff as dreams are made on.”
The spirits carry the weight of the conflict. Henry Godinez as the freedom-fearing Caliban–made up in a vaguely amphibian way–is so much roaring antimatter to James Sie’s graceful, darting, freedom-loving Ariel. Together or apart, they make a beautiful contrast. The lovers and clowns are the weak links. Dominic Fumusa’s noble Ferdinand and Krista Lally’s childlike Miranda (replacing an injured Anne Fogarty, with only 36 hours’ preparation) seem to court by the numbers, while Kevin Theis and Kevin Farrell’s oafish, drunken Stephano and Trinculo never reach the velocity that low comedy needs to take off. As always, the best supporting work comes from the Austin Gardens, an Edenic setting of wildflowers, fireflies, and sunset, a lovely calm in this rather dutiful storm.