'Tempest' includes sufficient sparks, sparkling exchanges


Michael Littig plays Ariel and Sara Morsey plays Prospera in the Hippodrome Theatre production of “The Tempest,” which continues through May 4.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 10:59 a.m.

The Hippodrome's Ariel is not your average “airy spirit.”

Facts

'The Tempest'

What: Hipp production of Shakespeare's adventure directed by Lauren Caldwell and starring Sara Morsey as Prospera

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through May 4

Where: Hippodrome Theatre, 25 SE Second Place

Tickets: $30-$35, $25 for senior citizens, $15 for students; tickets for tonight's preview are $15 and $18

Info: 375-4477, www.thehipp.org

This Ariel jerks like a marionette with tangled and broken strings. Now disjointed, now robotic, now frozen in time and space. Always stiff and awkward.

But Ariel's face. Oh, in that dead-white face there is animation aplenty. In that wide mouth effuses the fluidity denied his body. And in those wide eyes is revealed something else entirely.

There is a tempest abrew in those eyes.

Michael Littig's interpretation of Ariel — first among the “supernatural ministers of fate,” who flit through the Hipp's current production of “The Tempest” — is as unorthodox as it is fun to watch. His spirit/android/harlequin is the glue that holds this cast of woebegone sorcerers, conspirators, sots, spirits, monsters and lovers together.

That Littig's splendid Ariel is, for much of the play, invisible to all but his master Prospera and the audience, only adds the spice of irony to Shakespeare's tragi-comic tale of magic, revenge, redemption and love, both realized and unrequited.

“I will be correspondent to command, and do my spriting gently,” Ariel vows. And so he does, until the prospect of bloody treachery causes Littig to go all Rambo on us.

Really, this “Tempest” is worth weathering. The cast is lively. The plot engaging. And if the Bard's tale is indeed woven whole cloth from the “stuff of dreams,” then the Hipp's backstage crew deserves much credit for creating an appropriately dreamy environment — moody lighting, enchanting music, water that alternatively falls gently from the heavens and boils furiously from the depths.

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here,” and counted for on the Hippodrome's tiny, but all-encompassing stage.

Hipp veteran Sara Morsey turns in her usual A-list performance, this time as Prospera, a noble woman of Milan who — betrayed by her sister with the collusion of the king of Naples — is exiled to a desolate isle with her 3-year-old daughter Miranda (Erika Winterrowd). Cast away with her books and her bitterness, Prospera becomes a magician. A dozen years later, with Ariel's reluctant assistance, she conjures up an ill wind with which to sweep her enemies to the center of her world — only to discover that revenge is itself a frail vessel.

Among other noteworthy performances must be counted Ryan George's Caliban, the slave/monster who plots Prospera's overthrow. Though deformed, George moves about the stage with the grace of a crouching panther and projects an aura of barely contained fury that threatens to burst from his taut body.

“You taught me language,” Caliban tells Prospera, “and my profit in it is I know how to curse.”

For comic relief, director Lauren Caldwell has cast the always amusing Kenneth Smoak and Logan Wolfe. As foppish Trinculo and Stephano they tipsily conspire with Caliban to become kings of the island ... or perhaps queens.

If there is a disappointing flatness to this production it is in the absence of chemistry between Morsey's Prospera and Emily Green's “false sister,” Antonia. One might imagine that the rival siblings' first confrontation after so many years might spark an emotional tempest. Instead when the two finally do come face-to-face, what passes between them feels more akin to indifference.

That said, there are sufficient sparks and sparkling exchanges in this Hipp production to make wide-eyed Miranda's most memorable assertion believable. “Oh brave new world that has such people in it.”

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