Playwright: William Shakespeare
At: First Folio Shakespeare Festival,
Mayslake Peabody Estate
31st Street and Route 83, Oak Brook
Contact: ( 630 ) 980-8067; $25 - $20
Runs through: July 30
BY CATEY SULLIVAN
A decade ago, an eerily timed crack of thunder and a bolt of lightning opened The Tempest and the inaugural season at Oak Brook's First Folio Shakespeare Festival. This summer, Alison C. Vesely and David Rice's gorgeous theater celebrates 10 years by revisiting Shakespeare's tale of an enchanted island, a banished duke and a mighty storm that shipwrecks all manner of lovers, liars, fools and sages.
This Tempest opens not as the first one did with Prospero invoking otherworldly winds and rain with a staff of magic. The first sight Vesely gives us in this production is of red sails being blown to smithereens as a ship's crew careens from the masts in a futile attempt to avoid being crushed by the waves.
We know just how far-off course they've been carried by the surreal map of an unknown world that appears at the top of Angela Miller's set. It's a parchment-colored thing of odd beauty, a diagram that looks familiar—oceans and land masses—but is marked by continents shaped like none that we know and helter-skelter longitude and latitude lines that create ancient, Wiccan angles.
This is the land of Prospero ( Aaron H. Alpern ) , once the Duke of Milan and now—thanks to his treacherous brother Antonio and his collaborator Alonso ( David Perkovich ) —banished to an off-the-map island with his daughter Miranda ( Elana Ernst ) .
Having developed supernatural powers during his banishment, Prospero has brought his brother's ship aground in order to reclaim his rightful place in Milan. He is helped in his efforts by Ariel ( Gerson Dacanay ) and hindered by the island's villain, Caliban ( Phil Timberlake ) .
The mix of the merry ( Miranda falls instantly in love with Ferdinand, the Duke's handsome son ) and the malevolent ( Caliban was abandoned by his mother and has been enslaved by Prospero ) make The Tempest one of Shakespeare's most accessibly alluring plays.
Here, after the magnificently realized storm that opens the production, efforts are uneven. Costume designers Vicky J. Strei and Tara Marshall Johnson have made some unfortunate choices: Ariel's electric-blue feathers and sparkles evoke Cher in her Bob Mackie days, as does the pageant of goddesses who appear during an overly colorful wedding scene ( Iris, Goddess of Rainbows, looks like a Pride Parade Float; Harvest Goddess Ceres calls to mind the Statue of Liberty ) .
Moreover, Prospero has a dismayingly cardboard quality to him; you can understand what he's saying and doing, but the emotional core that drives the character is missing. Ernst's Miranda is pleasant enough, but it's some of the smaller villains—Christopher Prentice's lean-and-hungry Sebastian chief among them—who stand out here.
Well worth listening for is Michael Keefe's original score, a haunting, gossamer soundscape that creates some much-needed magic in a largely pedestrian production.