The Tempest is among Shakespeare's most popular and unusual plays. It features daring and nuanced characters, humor and the opportunity for enterprising stage designers to go all out with special effects. The mystery is why Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production, which opened June 6, was uneven.
The Tempest, written in 1610 or 1611, is the story of sorcerer and rightful Duke of Milan Prospero (David Anthony Smith) and his daughter Miranda (Katie Willmorth) as they escape an enchanted island. Prospero's plan, aided by the spirit Ariel (Ryan David O'Byrne) and unwilling mooncalf Caliban (J. Todd Adams), is to shipwreck Neapolitan King Alonso (Dougfred Miller) and his entourage, which so happens to include Prospero's brother and usurping Milanese Duke Antonio (Jonathan Dyrud); wow them with lots of magic; reveal himself as the legitimate duke; un-sink their ship; and hitch a ride home.
Prospero has more interest in his books than statecraft, but 12 years on an enchanted desert island have made him a tin-pot dictator. This shows in his treatment of everyone around him, but Smith captures little of the character's fussiness as a man or his grandeur as a magician. Playing the impish Caliban requires similar range: The son of the cruel North African witch Sycorax, he's both the bitter, deposed heir to the enchanted island and a buffoonish drunk. Costume designer Kim Krumm Sorenson's concept for the character—modeling him visually after Brandon Lee in The Crow with long, greasy hair and splotched, white body paint—was inspired.
Visually, the play shines. A cage erected center stage shimmers with reflective material during supernatural scenes. When Ariel mesmerizes Alonso and his attendants, he calls on a troupe of sprites so decked out in what appears to be crushed mirror that they dazzle.
Jonathan Dyrud and Nick Steen give memorable performances as Antonio and Sebastian, respectively; and Dustin Tucker and Tom Ford are comedy gold as Trinculo and Stephano. Patrick Riley's Ferdinand seems to be genuinely in love with Miranda. Audiences will enjoy these characters and the fleeting visually arresting scenes, but more vigorous performances by Smith and Adams would help enliven the play.