Review: The Tempest

W. Jerome Stevenson in The Tempest                                      Photo by Kathryn McGill

By Larry Laneer
October 14, 2019

Oklahoma Shakespeare is presenting The Tempest in a production that makes you feel you should root for it but lacks much that’s likeable. If I hadn’t seen this play done before with more appeal, I would have thought the fault lies with Shakespeare himself.

Granted, director Tyler Woods has taken a slightly unconventional approach to the play, and goodness knows theatergoers like shows that take risks. But this production never gels into a clear, cohesive whole. It is difficult to keep up with the storyline and who some of the characters are and their relationships with each other.

In a nod to western expansion by Europeans in the 17th century, Woods includes elements from the West Indies and Irish isles, which explains why Ariel is a voodoo princess and Caliban speaks with an Irish brogue. You may not understand the presence of these affectations watching the play, which was first performed in 1611. I wouldn’t have. They are discussed in a helpful dramaturg’s note by Hailey Stephan in the program. Stephan also provides an informative video display and binder of dramaturg’s notes in the lobby.

The production features some notable acting—or overacting. None other than W. Jerome Stevenson is a commanding Prospero, who rules his enchanted isle with a magical staff Moses would envy. Miranda Summar (as Prospero’s daughter, also named Miranda) and Nick Hone (Ferdinand) make a sweet couple. In a mohawk with devil’s horns growing out of his head, Tom Orr amps up Caliban until you think he’s about to pop. Playing the part as a wild-eyed voodoo princess, Mariah Warren will be the scariest Ariel you may see for a while. The West Indies accent Warren speaks in (“de” for “the,” “dem” for “them,” and so on) muddles too much of her dialog. It isn’t clear why Woods has cast females in some male roles.

As with recent Oklahoma Shakespeare productions at the Paseo venue, this one looks sharp. If the actors want to chew some scenery, Ryan Fischer’s scenic design provides a smorgasbord of more fully realized detail than you usually see in Elizabethan-style theater. Emily Herrera has designed appealing, if conventional, 17th-century-style costumes, although they aren’t much help in differentiating the Neapolitans from the Milanese.

In addition to playing Gonzalo (and guitar), Stephen Hilton composed music and designed sound for the show. He employs both recorded and live music, mainly contemporary sounding. The sound design contributes largely to two of the best scenes. Woods stages the opening scene of a ship in a storm (the “tempest”), including the vessel’s figurehead and sails, with an artistic simplicity that creates high expectations for the rest of the play. Later, Ariel scares some reprobates by conjuring dogs and hounds that send them into a frenzy. Sound and some hand-held red lights are spare and highly effective.

It takes quite a bit of effort on audience members’ parts to keep up with what is going on in this production. This need not be. Oklahoma Shakespeare has proven before it can stage clear, convincing shows at their Paseo space. A case in point is the company’s Twelfth Night earlier this year.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Oklahoma Shakespeare
8:00 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays, through October 26
Oklahoma Shakespeare on the Paseo
2920 Paseo