More Than a Tempest in a Tea Pot!

Starring Sam Waterston and Jessie Tyler Ferguson
Starring Sam Waterston and Jessie Tyler Ferguson

The Public Theater presents

The Tempest

 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park

(near 79th and Central Park West).

Performances run until July 5 at 8pm

Now in Previews

Running Time: 2hrs and 45 minutes with one fifteen minute intermission

Viewed on May 30, 2015

The Public Theater, as part of its Shakespeare in the Park series is featuring The Tempest starring Sam Waterston as Prospero, Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Trinculo, Francesca Carpanini as Miranda, Louis Cancelmi as Caliban, and Chris Perfetti as Ariel.  The Tempest is directed by Michael Greif. The scenic design is by Riccardo Hernandez, and the sound design is by Acme Sound Partners and Jason Crystal.  The Tempest is thought to be Shakespeare’s last play.  Joseph Papp, the founder of The Public Theater envisioned that the public would have free access to theater.  As a result, the Shakespeare in the Park series was born.  Each summer, two plays are featured at The Delacorte Theater. Typically both plays are Shakespearean.  At the end of the summer, The Public Theater has a Public Works program in which people from the five boroughs participate in a Shakespearean play, also at The Delacorte.  After having seen many Shakespearean performances over many years, I look forward to getting in line at 5:30am outside of Central Park, and being ushered into the park at 6am and waiting for six hours to receive the free tickets. The experience is usually pleasant and it’s an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals. I have only not received a ticket once since starting this annual ritual in 1987.  This play uses props, sound and minimal set design to convey the greatest tempest, ushering the audience into an intriguing narrative.

The Delacorte Theater
The Delacorte Theater

The Tempest is about a magically induced storm that hits a ship carrying Trinculo, Antonio, Alonzo, and others.  The tempest, however, was all orchestrated by Prospero, the former Duke of Milan.  Prospero, the protagonist, and his daughter, Miranda, have been on an island for twelve years. While on the island, Prospero begins to tell his daughter that when he was the Duke, his brother, Antonio, usurped his position.  He and his daughter have survived on the island because of materials left on the island. Both Prospero and Miranda were abducted by his brother and by Alonzo, the king of Naples and were placed on the island. Prospero has magical powers garnered from what was left on the island.  It is with these magical powers that Prospero manages to get even with his brother and with Alonzo, allowing him to create a plot with Ariel that helps restore him and Miranda to their rightful positions.

A great play allows the audience to be either riveted or captivated by the various elements of the entire theatrical experience. The Tempest is such a play. The most creative elements of the play are the scenic design, the props, and the sound design that allow the audience to experience the tempest along with the cast. In the opening scene and in other acts of this play, I felt as if i were in the tempest.  The lightning and thunder crackled as if they were real. The sound had precision and caused fear within the cast on stage and within the audience. There was a musician placed stage right, slightly in view, that played gentle and intense notes of classical music periodically during the performance. The music was subtle at times, but seemingly all at the right moments to depict some of the tension within the narrative. Props were used to maximum effect; there were huge swaths of material, similar to flags, that the actors held and swayed to mimic fierce wind.  The costumes also portrayed intense weather.  The actors wore rain coats that were previously wet to portray an intense storm.  The backdrop for the set was that of an ocean and many of the props were related to life at sea or at the shore.

The acting of several of the characters was both engaging and creative.  Caliban, the antagonist, malevolently played by Louis Cancelmi, gives us more than a glimpse into the underworld. He has been Propero’s slave while on the island. Calcelmi’s acting gives us insight into his vindictiveness against Prospero.  The costume that he wore was both dingy and dirty. It accurately depicted the underworld.  Ariel, the spirit who serves Prospero, is so nimble and agile that he moves gracefully across the stage to the extent that it is easy for the audience to believe that other than Prospero, the other characters on stage never see him.  He evokes sympathy from the audience because it is easy to see his goodness, thus the audience can silently root for his freedom from Prospero. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is exceptionally funny as the jester, Trinculo. His costume as well as the method in which he articulates language evokes playful laughter from the audience.

Sam Waterston as Prospero played his part well.  He appeared to have a cold because he coughed many times during the first hour.  He also had a large cup of liquid from which he periodically drank. His sipping from this kingly chalice was nicely woven into the story.  About one hour into the performance, he appeared to be feeling better. He was a prime example that “The show must go on.” The intensity of his emotions when talking to those he cares about most was shown. In the scene in which his daughter Miranda is going to marry Ferdinand, he strongly admonishes Ferdinand about not becoming intimate with his daughter before time. He warns Ferdinand sternly and as he delivers this speech, I chuckled because although he was serious, I could not help but chuckle because of the words themselves coupled with Waterston’s steadfastness. Moreover, as Prospero sets Ariel free at the end of the drama, Prospero’s desire to fulfill his own promise is evident and Ariel is set free.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Sam Waterston

This play is wonderfully engaging.  I will likely see it again this Saturday, June 6th. Do not delay.   The experience is worthwhile and how can you have a better experience under the stars- that is if there is not inclement weather. The next play after The Tempest at The Delacorte Theater is Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works. It runs from July 23 to August 23, 2015.

Four ways to get tickets:

*Free distribution in Central Park at 12noon (line starts forming early before 6am.)

*Free virtual ticketing lottery (I’ve never been successful at getting tickets that way.) *

Free downtown lottery distribution at the Public Theater (I’ve never been successful with that either.)

*Skip the line and support free Shakespeare. ( for a sizable donation of $200 )

Personal Comment

Wendella Wilson and Me at The Delacorte Theater
Wendella Wilson and Me at The Delacorte Theater

On a personal note, I had the privilege of taking Wendella, one of my most brilliant students with exceptional character, to see The Tempest.  I had been asking students for a number of years to meet me at the Delacorte Theater during the summer so that they could learn to appreciate Shakespeare.  Recently, Wendella saw Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Jimmy Fallon speaking about his role in The Tempest. That ignited Wendella’s interest because she knew Ferguson from Modern Family. Additionally, this year because we had a large Shakespeare unit with a teaching artist, the students along with Wendella were able to perform scenes from Romeo and Juliet, thereby learning to appreciate Shakespeare in spite of its complexity. Furthermore, as a result of Wendella spreading the information about the show on Facebook, many other students are now looking forward to seeing live performances of Shakespearean works. For that reason alone, rising at 4am was worth it!

Deirdre M. DeLoatch
Deirdre M. DeLoatch

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