Storm King

The Tempest
Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, 2755 Station Ave., Center Valley, through July 11, 610-282-WILL

Being exiled on a deserted island for 12 years must do some strange things to you.

This certainly seems to be the case with Prospero, as played by Michael Tolaydo in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare production of The Tempest. Years of sitting and brooding, waiting for the opportunity to take revenge on his brother Antonio (who usurped the dukedom of Milan from Prospero and cast him adrift with his infant daughter Miranda), has turned Tolaydo’s Prospero into a genuinely peculiar person, who storms and rages and lurches about the stage, consumed with unspeakable rage and unspoken hangups. I’ve never seen a Prospero on such a power trip, demanding total, groveling subservience from his magical servant Ariel, for no apparent reason. Nor have I seen a Prospero so fretful and preoccupied during the magical masque that he conjures to celebrate the engagement of Miranda with the shipwrecked prince Ferdinand, slapping his shaven head with both palms as though trying to knock his obsessions out of his own skull.

The long years of exile have evidently also taken their toll on Prospero’s fashion sense: With his floor-length magician’s robes, wide sash and wide neckpiece made from abalone shells, he looks like an Egyptian palace attendant from a production of Antony and Cleopatra who wandered out onto the wrong stage at a Shakespeare festival.

Director Patrick Mulcahy’s staging of The Tempest is decoratively staged and, for its opening night audience (if not for me), evidently entertaining. If the production doesn’t fully capture the play’s extraordinary movement from tragedy to romance, and from revenge to forgiveness, it is in part because of the emotional distance that such an angry Prospero must travel to be able to forgive his brother, and his rebellious deformed slave Caliban, by the end of the play; and in part due to its empty and cliché-ridden directorial and design choices.


The long years of exile have evidently also taken their toll on Prospero’s
fashion sense: He looks like an Egyptian palace attendant who wandered in from Antony and Cleopatra.


Ariel (played with fascinating androgyny by Marc O’Donnell), with his upswept hair and beige leotard with flame-colored gauzy wings under his arms, might have looked that way in a production in Regent’s Park in the 1920s. (In fact, looking at a photo in a book on my shelves, I see that Ariel did look that way then.) Caliban (Richard B. Watson) crawls on all fours, growling and grunting and farting his disapproval of his master, his skin and even his darting tongue painted green, with a goiterlike green dewlap under his chin; and when he makes his first entrance through a trapdoor, he has, so-help-me-God, a fish between his teeth, which, according to another book on my shelf, was already a performance cliché for over half a century when Frank Benson used to do it in the 1890s.

Still, there are a handful of insights in the production, most notably the way Miranda kneels before her beloved Ferdinand, offering to be his slave, replicating the posture of self-abasement that both Caliban and Ariel had been forced to take before Prospero. The comic scenes between Caliban, the jester Trinculo (Dennis Razze) and the butler Stephano (Anthony Lawton) are staged with comic inventiveness. Lawton is terrific in showing us Stephano’s puffed-up drunken self-importance after Caliban starts treating him as though he were a god, entering at one point with his ruff on his head like a tiara. And Gina Lamparella brings a lovely, clear-spoken, unaffected simplicity to Miranda that escapes virtually all of her fellow cast members.

The sets (with a terrific transition from the shipwreck to the wild landscape of the island) are by Bob Phillips. The costumes were designed by Janus Stefanowicz, who probably has the same books on her shelves as I do.

Cary M. Mazer