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

Shakespeare in the 18th Century: A Magnificent Blend

The Royal Shakespeare Company and Miami’s GableStage via New York City’s Public Theater, have done the impossible in juxtaposing two important pages of history. In their desire to bring the original Shakespearean tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra to a new era, these two companies went to the 18th  century at a time in which prejudice and racial discrimination ravaged the Caribbean.  The play, wonderfully directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, stars Jonathan Cake as Mark Antony, Charise Castro Smith as Octavia, Samuel Collings as Octavius Ceasar and  Joaquina Kalukango as Cleopatra, and a cast of other talented actors.  To entertain and to introduce the audience to the music that is infused in the play, there are exemplary musicians who play folklore, traditional Haitian music, before the play begins.  The well-known story of Antony and Cleopatra brings tears to many theater goers’ eyes, and has taken passionate love to another dimension when the companies  in a parallel attempt move back and forth  from the Roman Empire to the Haitian Revolution against France in the late 18th century.
As the story unfolds people familiar with global history relive the poignant and passionate love story of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra who is madly in love with Marcus Antonius (known as Mark Antony).   After the breakage of the triumvirate, war was inevitable between Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Octavius) and Anthony. The ill-fated love so characteristic of Shakespearean theater culminates with the suicidal and tragic death of the two lovers.  It is truly a poignant and breathtaking story! How then can one take such a tragic story and bring it to the twenty-first Century? To immortalize true love and bring it to the level of a ‘Paul and Virginia’ or a ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the producers went into the Haitian folklore and found ways to deify the slave woman with songs like Choukoune, Ti zwazo, and Dèy before offering them in holocaust on the altar of veritable but impossible love.  To uncover the plot that leads to the death of a white colonialist and his colored mistress, Anthony becomes a French general obligated to return to France, and Cleopatra becomes the: ‘Choukoune ak je li clere kou yon chandèl’ (A woman with eyes shining brighter than a star), and the mourning woman desperately awaiting the return of her lover.  The infusion of both stories makes for a brilliant recounting of this familiar love story, despite some historical inconsistencies that Shakespeare fashions in his recounting of an Egyptian and Roman tragic love story.
The relationship between Octavius, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra is complicated, but we can look to history for clarity and understanding.  Julius Caesar had a relationship with Cleopatra, but after his death, Mark Anthony had an affair with her while he was married to Fluvia, his current wife, who later died.  Upon Julius Caesar’s death, the throne was given to his son Octavius. Octavius may not have thought well of Cleopatra because of her affairs with both Antony and Julius Caesar. Cleopatra’s relationship with Julius Caesar may have been a political move for her to secure her throne against the Roman Empire.  Cleopatra may have served her own interests in her love relationships.  Furthermore, according to Adrian Goldsworthy in his historical biography, Antony and Cleopatra, “There is no actual evidence to suggest that her concerns went any further than enduring a steady flow of taxation into her own hands, to cement her hold on power.”  According to history, Cleopatra was well educated and cagey.  She used her perspicacity shrewdly to cement her place in history. Additionally, Shakespeare’s tragedy portrays Octavius as a ruthless, cold-hearted ruler and Antony as a simple-easy minded soldier has very little veracity; these depictions appear to be merely fooder for good story telling.
In Shakespeare’s rendition of this tragedy, there is great tension between Octavius and Antony and Antony and Cleopatra.  To forge a strong military relationship between Antony and Octavius, Octavius offers his sister, Octavia, in marriage to Antony; however, this friendship is ephemeral and the marriage is duplicitous.   This marriage is the basis for the conflict between Antony and Cleopatra and the continued affair with Cleopatra is the basis for the erosion of Antony’s relationship with Octavius. Antony and Cleopatra make themselves both king and Queen of Alexandria further angering Octavius.  Antony also walks away from a battle to follow Cleopatra. Through mendacity and beguilement, misinformation is given to Antony, ultimately causing a macabre scene. At the end, there is great distrust and misunderstanding by the major characters, resulting in the deaths of both Antony and Cleopatra.
The acting, set design, and costume design help captivate the audience when watching an otherwise difficult Shakespearean tragedy. The powerful emotion the characters display helps to understand the dynamics among the characters. A pool of water was strategically placed at the back of the stage and cleverly used in several battles at sea. The characters wore either stolas ( worn by Roman and Egyptian women ) or togas worn by Roman men to represent the attire of both Rome and Egypt during that era.
Familiarizing oneself with the story including its historical aspects may be necessary to gain a greater understanding of the play.  Otherwise, one may find himself exiting the theater during intermission.  Shakespeare is difficult.  The vocabulary is bombastic, but the music, the passion, and the great acting can assist in overcoming these challenges. I may see it a second time for further enlightenment of this historical drama. There is no shame in admitting that the play is intellectually challenging; the shame is in doing nothing about it.
Comments are welcome.