Inspired by the high-flying, death-defying performers of Montreal's fabulous Cirque du Soleil, Theatre in the Park executive and artistic director Ira David Wood, III has transformed the exotic New World desert-island setting of The Tempest (1611) by English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616) into a sort of 17th century Magic Kingdom, complete with clowns, scantily clad chorines, jugglers, a stiltwalker, and more. Although these sideshow attractions slow the pace at which Wood's liberally pruned version of the immortal Bard's (alleged) valedictory drama unfolds, they obviously delighted the Saturday night audience who like their Shakespeare with a generous pinch of moonshine and pixie dust. And the show only runs about two and a half hours, including intermission.
Director David Wood slickly orchestrates the action — the play and the sideline entertainment — on technical director/scenic designer Stephen J. Larson's striking minimalist set, under lighting designer Thomas Mauney's artful illumination. The fantastically colorful array of 17th century Italian and supernatural characters, brilliantly outfitted by costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson, create a veritable visual feast. Choreographer Matthew-Jason Willis and magic-effects wizard Paul Miller also deserve kudos for the contributions to the production.
Wood has cast the show well. D. Anthony Pender, who hammed it up entertainingly last year in the title role of TIP's Richard III melodrama, makes a majestic Prospero, a master magician and the rightful duke of Milan. Pender gives a regal performance as the revenge-minded duke; and Jillian Voytko and Aaron Dunlap are charming as Prospero's beautiful daughter Miranda and Ferdinand, the handsome son of one of Prospero's arch enemies, Alonso the King of Naples (Jerry Zieman in a clever comic cameo).
Lennardo DeLaine and Brett Wilson are delightful as Prospero's treacherous brother, the usurper Antonio, and Alonso's treacherous brother, Sebastian. Fred Corlett is amusing as the aged court counselor Gonzalo. And J.T. Pitt and Kayla Martin are a hoot as the mischievous island spirit Ariel and "Ariel's Shadow," a character that David Wood created to heighten the hilarity of the scenes in which the invisible Ariel torments Prospero's enemies.
Phil Crone is good as Prospero's slave, the rebellious half human/half witch Caliban; but Mike Raab and Scotty Cherryholmes steal the show with their outrageous antics as the sardonic jester Trinculo and the drunken butler Stephano, co-conspirators with Caliban in an ill-fated plot to assassinate the sleeping Prospero in his cell, free Caliban, and claim Prospero's island kingdom for themselves.
Theatre in the Park presents The Tempest Thursday-Saturday, May 1-3 and 8-10, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 4 and 11, at 3 p.m. at TIP, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18 ($12 students, seniors, and military personnel). (NOTE: The May 1 performance will be audio described.) 919/831-6058. http://www.theatreinthepark.com/frames/tempest_frame.html.