Author: William Shakespeare
At: Lincoln Park and various other Chicago public parks. Tickets: MidsommerFlight.com; Tickets are free, no reservations required. Runs through: Aug 25
Producing the ideal Shakespeare in the park is a choose-your-own-adventure undertaking with pitfalls left and right. High winds? Peals of laughter from nearby barbeques? The thump of nearby dub-step? They are all ready to swallow your mournful soliloquies. So you'll need a production that's familiar, but not tedious, and actors with strong lungs and expressive faces. With The Tempest, Midsommer Flight Theatre manages to ensnare the attention of outdoor theater-goers by staging four shows in one; a political thriller, a romance, a screwball comedy and a fantasy novel.
Prospero ( Stephanie Monday ) was once a jilted duke, robbed of her title and cast out to sea with only her daughter Miranda ( Jennifer Mohr ) in tow. Now, she commands an island of subservient magical creatures like Ariel ( Elana Weiner-Kaplow ) and Caliban ( Richard Eisloeffel ) with fearsome powers of her own. When she learns that her brother Antonio ( Dylan S. Roberts ) and the queen who plotted against her, Alonso ( Julie Proudfoot ), are near her refuge, she plots mischievous revenge, but ends up with lovesick teens, dioriented drunks, and another murder plot that needs thwarting.
This Tempest subverts what we know about traditional casting for Shakespeare productions by casting women in powerful roles typically reserved for men. Director Beth Wolf has assembled a solid team of outdoor players, but I wish I could have seen more risk-taking with casting actors of color in speaking roles, especially in such an accessible work. Wolf creates intriguing visuals with little more than bodies on stage, and music director Elizabeth Rentfro gives the island sprites magic in the form of music, sometimes simple, and sometimes sweeping.
Midsommer Flight's actors have more ambiance to overcome than your average performer, and are roundly successful in getting their pentameter to the furthest picnic blankets. Jennifer Mohr and Anthony Santiago have fantastic interplay as Miranda and Ferdinand, the immediately smitten, practically sugar-frosted young lovers. Tom McGrath and Kat Moraros are the perfect injection of humor as Stephano and Trincuo, two increasingly drunk royal servants, washed ashore.
Richard Eisloeffel is an interesting choice for Caliban, a person forced into servitude and constantly mocked. There's something poignant in that Eisloeffel's Caliban is not costumed/made up differently than any other performer, but is still referred to as monstrous and beastly by all. To me, it serves to highlight that no one deserves that abuse, and even characters we think of as honorable are the worst offenders. Stephanie Monday is booming and commanding as Prospero with a stage-filling presence that resonates, and Elana Weiner-Kaplow is a whirlwind as Ariel, the nimble connective tissue binding everyonenot at all shabby for a free evening in the park.