Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danny Mastrogiorgio in THE TEMPEST; Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danny Mastrogiorgio in THE TEMPEST; Photo Credit Joan Marcus

by Tulis McCall

I know I say this EVERY YEAR, but every year it is still true. One of the best, most brilliant perks of living in New York is the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.

If the production phenomenal, nature is a loving back drop. If it is a total dud you can set your sights on the birds as they close down their day. And of course there is always the occasional raccoon who steals any scene in which she appears.
The show in current residence is The Tempest directed by Michael Greiff. While it is most definitely not a dud, it is not a rip roaring attention grabber either.

Sometimes I do wonder if I am the only person who marvels at Shakespeare’s plots. How does a person place a hat on their head and become unrecognizable? Or in this case a how does a banished Duke of Milan manage to live on an island for 12 years with his only child, Miranda (Francesca Carpanini) and two seriously strange beings as company. The daughter is coming of age and, well, you get the idea….

As well, this is a difficult play. The entire premise rests on the shoulders of Prospero (Sam Waterston) who, being the banished Duke in Question, is given the enormous responsibility of telling the entire story of his and his daughter’s life within the first few minutes of the play. If he doesn’t grab us here, he doesn’t grab us period. While Waterston is game, he never quite hits the needed mark. In addition he appears more focused on his words than spinning a tale of poetry and charm.

Not only is the Prospero’s tale filled with poetry, so is his scheme. Prospero, you see, is a magician who has been up to some major conjuring. For one thing there is that Tempest that has turned the sea surrounding the island upside down. And in that sea just happened to be sailing the Alonso, King of Naples (Charles Parnell) but Prospero’s own brother, Antonio (Cotter Smith) who was responsible for tossing Prospero out of Milan in the first place. Finally there is the King’s son, Ferdinand (Rodney Richardson), who is the object of Prospero’s desires. Miranda has never seen another man before, so why not have her set eyes on the best and let nature (with Prospero’s help) take its course. With Miranda on the throne, his restored position in Milan will not be far behind.
All this is laid out like a beaded dress slowly unraveling on a set so vast it just about swallows everyone whole.

You don’t really appreciate the stupor into which you have been enticed until Danny Mastrogiorgio (Stephano) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Trinculo) stagger onto the stage accompanied by Louis Cancelmi (Caliban). Suddenly you are awake and paying very close attention because these three are a terrific trio. Stephano and Trinculo have survived the tempest and are separated from the royal party. Naturally they are open to a bit of plotting and subterfuge. Caliban is the lone and terrible slave of Prospero. In short, he will show his two new BFF’s where and how to end Prospero’s miserable little life, and in return they will rule the island and claim Miranda. What could go wrong?

The rest of the play plods down the path of Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch… until everyone ends up in love, out of bondage, chastised, or vindicated. All IS damn well that ends well. The beautiful night comes to an end and we leave the park reluctantly, not caring so much about what we just saw as we care about how it felt to be held and cosseted by this little patch of nature.

A final note: The animals are happy to see us leave as well – the sound and special lighting effects in this production are beyond over-the-top (I am not referring to the beautiful live percussion). The cacophony and light blasts must wake the neighbors with the thrashing and banging. Is there not a law about how much noise an event can make when birds are roosting within feet of the speakers and flashing lights?


Are we not guests in the Park?

The Tempest – By William Shakespeare; directed by Michael Greif

WITH: Louis Cancelmi (Caliban), Francesca Carpanini (Miranda), Nicholas Christopher (Boatswain), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Trinculo), Frank Harts (Sebastian), Brandon Kalm (Francisco), Olga Karmansky (Iris), Tamika Sonja Lawrence (Ceres), Rico Lebron (Adrian), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Stephano), Matthew Oaks (Master), Charles Parnell (Alonso), Chris Perfetti (Ariel), Rodney Richardson (Ferdinand), Laura Shoop (Juno), Cotter Smith (Antonio), Sam Waterston (Prospero), Bernard White (Gonzalo), and Jordan Barrow, Chloe Fox, Rosharra Francis, Thomas Gibbons and Sunny Hitt (Mariners/Spirits).

Sets by Riccardo Hernandez; costumes by Emily Rebholz; lighting by David Lander; sound by Acme Sound Partners and Jason Crystal; soundscapes by Matt Tierney; hair and makeup design by J. Jared Janas; music by Michael Friedman; choreography by Denis Jones; production stage manager, Michael McGoff; associate artistic director, Mandy Hackett; associate producer, Maria Goyanes; general manager, Jeremy Adams; production executive, Ruth E. Sternberg. A Shakespeare in the Park production, presented by the Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Patrick Willingham, executive director. At the Delacorte Theater, Central Park, at 81st Street and Central Park West; 212-539-8500, Through July 5. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes.