Theatrical legend has it that The Tempest, which was first produced about 1611 and first printed in the First Folio of 1623, was the valedictory play written exclusively by the incomparable Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatist William Shakespeare. Indeed, when the unjustly deposed Italian duke-turned-magician Prospero finally chooses reconciliation over revenge, he lays aside his magic staff and compendium of spells and vows: "[T]his rough magic / I here abjure; and ... I'll break my staff, / Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, / And deeper than did ever plummet sound / I'll drown my book."
Now, The Shakespeare & Originals Theatre Company, which specializes in staging bold new interpretations of the Shakespearean canon as well as original dramas by local playwrights, is announcing its withdrawal from the Triangle theater scene. According to S&O artistic director Jay O'Berski, after The Tempest closes at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC, the company will take a one-year hiatus and then "morph into a new creation with a new mission."
I am pleased to report, then, that Shakespeare & Originals is going out on a high note, with a delightful production of The Tempest directed by S&O company member, Dog & Pony Show artistic director, and PEEP! impresario Lissa Brennan, who doubles (spectacularly) as costume designer for this theatrical walk on the wild side. Brennan's fresh, new approach to this perennially popular (and much performed locally) comedy is a welcome diversion from morosely speculating over the outcome of the upcoming national election.
In streamlining Shakespeare's script and underscoring its low-comedy elements, Brennan may offend some Shakespeare purists. But the overall result is a lively, briskly paced entertainment that does not linger too long on the excessive pageantry enjoyed more by 16th and 17th century theatergoers than contemporary audiences.
S&O mainstay Tom Marriott makes a terrific Prospero. His Prospero is regal in manner and outwardly stern but inwardly more compassionate than his stormy countenance reveals.
Marriott gives a masterful performance as the indignant and revenge-minded rightful Duke of Milan, exiled to an enchanted desert island in the New World after being deposed by his ambitious brother Antonio (Polentzi Mahias), with the assistance of King Alonso of Naples (Michael O'Foghludha). When he spies Antonio and Alonso and other treacherous former friends on a nearby ship, Prospero whips up a storm and "shipwrecks" their company on his island. There, by their actions and their repentance, key members of the motley company convince the powerful self-taught magician to forego vengeance and reconcile with his contrite countrymen.
Polentzi Mahias is a thoroughly hissable Antonio, and Michael O'Foghludha is good as the regretful Alonso. Jordan Smith is hilarious as Caliban, Cheryl Chamblee is a little too angry and pouty as the beautiful innocent Miranda, but Adam Sampieri is handsome and utterly charming as the infatuated Ferdinand and Jackie Marriott is an absolutely ethereal Ariel dressed as and dancing like a Haitian voodoo queen.
John Honeycutt is majestic as wise old Gonzalo; Jay O'Berski is amusing as the drunken butler Stephano; Maggie Cochran is cute as Stephano's crude butt-scratching drinking buddy Trincula; Thomas "TeKay" King adds a creepy characterization of King Alonso's fickle brother Sebastian; and Lucius Robinson provides some enthusiastic cameos in multiple roles.
Shakespeare & Originals, which produces provocative comedy and drama on a rock-bottom budget, splurged on scenery for The Tempest. This unusually elaborate and detailed recreation of Prospero's magic isle, complete with palm trees, is a scenic wonder created by set designer Ann Meilahn and artfully illuminated by lighting designer Steve Tell.
The frenetic rhythms of the live and recorded music provided by and music director Adam Sampieri give The Tempest a Caribbean feel. If some of the dance interludes are a bit silly and go on too long, it is a small price to pay for such an entertaining evening. Shakespeare & Originals will be missed.
Shakespeare & Originals presents The Tempest Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 21-23 and 27-30, at 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 24, at 3:15 p.m. at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham. $10 Wednesday-Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday. 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Shakespeare & Originals: http://www.newfrequency.org/tempest.htm. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/. University of Virginia (Shakespeare Resources): http://etext.virginia.edu/shakespeare/. University of Virginia (The Tempest Text, 1623 First Folio, edited by John Heminges and Henry Condell): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaTemF.html. University of Virginia (The Tempest Text, 1866 Globe Edition, edited by William George Clark and William Aldis Wright): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobTemp.html.