by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Pam Monteleone and the English Department of the University of North Florida completed the second weekend of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest on the University’s campus in Southside Jacksonville. The two concluding performances will be April 15 and 16 at Russell Park in Atlantic Beach Florida at 8 pm; with live music at 7:30 pm. This is the 2nd annual Shakespeare In The Park, following last year’s production of The Taming of the Shrew.
The Saturday night we attended at UNF, the performance was supposed to be performed on the University Green but was moved indoors to the Andrew Robinson Theatre. Friday’s outdoor performance was reportedly accompanied by heat and bugs, bugs, bugs, which led to the change of venue. Based on our experience from last year, we don’t think there will be any problems at Atlantic Beach, since ocean breezes provide the cooling and salt air controls the bug problems.
The Tempest is relatively popular today probably because the story of a banished duke (a duchess in this version) who uses her magic powers to control and manipulate nature, spirits, and an enslaved monster, and to arrange a marriage for her own daughter, is ripe material for creative interpretation, which indeed Dr. Pam has done.
Inside the Robinson, we were allowed to choose from seats that surrounded the set of The Tempest on three sides. This made it a very up close and personal, in your face, theatre experience and we loved it. Last year we had opportunity to sit almost as close in Russell Park at Taming of the Shrew.
Well the ship had sailed, and the storm gathered (thanks to the sound and lights by Andrea Tally). The actors convinced us they were tossed about and off the ship, those set pieces making up the ship were quickly carried off, and we learned that Prospera, the right Duchess of Milan (Ronica Arntzen) had created the storm to regain her royal title and riches. Ms. Arntzen who was excellent last year as Kate in Shrew, follows up that gem with another outstanding performance. She is soon joined by her servant, the spirit Ariel, whom she has rescued from a witch’s enchantment, played with boundless energy by Cameron Lewis.
Among the passengers stranded on the island are Alonsa, Queen of Naples (Michal Grimes) and her son Ferdinand (Andrew Pierce), who awakens Prospera’s daughter Miranda (Lily Hickey) to the first stirrings of love. The others swept overboard include her brother Sebastian (Clark Ogier), her counselor Gonzalo (Christopher Valade), her courtier Adrian (Brian Childers) and Prospera’s sister Antonia (Tyler Peerson). In a subplot, the evil Sebastian and scheming Antonia plan to kill the Queen and to take over the crown.
Three actors are excellent in presenting Shakespeare’s physical comedy sequence. Michael Santana, Robby McChargue, and Christopher Williams as the drunken Stephano, the jester Trinculo and the savage Caliban, act out a subplot that comments on Prospera’s iron-handed rule of this island kingdom.
To the delight of the audience, Director Monteleone has cast seven spirits varying in age from the 6th grade to the 2nd year in college, in distinctive costumes. They are constantly on and off the stage, playing drums or casting spells as directed by Prospera. The playful spirits were played by Emily Britton, Joi Johnson, Joshua Johnson, Abigail Plattock, Asiyah Rasheed, Grace Velez and Diannah Williams.
Rounding out the cast were the Mariners who included James Edwards, Elyse Hessley, Robby McChargue and Michael Santana. Jake Devaney was the Boatswain and Kristian Cook Master of the Ship.
The costume design by Kim Johnson and Director Monteleone included a number of interesting touches. The spirits wore leather clothing, had wild hair entwined with greenery, and painted faces and bodies. Caliban sported a Mohawk, primitive adornments, and painted scales on his body. Other cast members wore more traditional Elizabethan garments of velvet.
Michael Peck designed the multi-level (and apparently portable) set with Costume Design by Kim Johnson and the Director. UNF graduate, Annamaria Abad, now a local teacher came back to provide the choreography with Wendy Goldberg and Michael Santana as stage managers. UNF junior, Ryan Janney was the musical director and created an original piece called “The Island Music.” The musicians included Mr. Janney and Mark Liebszeit on trumpet, Erin Keller on flute, Tony Park and Rafael Hernandez playing clarinet, Samson Mandrick on drums, and playing guitar was Hunter Rhyme.
This is one of the most interesting productions we have seen of The Tempest (including the one UNF did several years ago). What was particularly impressive was the command of Shakespeare’s language by the actors. Excellent diction and pacing were hallmarks of this entertaining Tempest.
You can see it free, thanks to the City of Atlantic Beach, just go to Jack Russell park on Friday or Saturday (Sunday is a rain date). Take a chair or a blanket to sit on the ground. Get there early; stake your claim to a spot in the park. Thanks UNF English Department, you are indeed such stuff as dreams are made on.
THE TEMPEST theatre review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM