Friday, September 19, 2008

Review: The Tempest

Stark Sands, Mandy Patinkin, Elisabeth Waterston (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Production Fails to Gather the Flotsam

By Lauren Yarger
Classic Stage Company’s rendering of “The Tempest” seems lost at sea, with its best elements rising on the swells while others crash on the beach resulting in a production that seems unsure of how to gather in the flotsam and steer a steady course.

Shakespeare’s last play explores the themes of revenge, forgiveness and restoration as magician Prospero (Mandy Patinkin) creates a storm that shipwrecks his brother Antonio (Karl Kenzler) and Alonso, the king of Naples (Michael Potts), who conspired to usurp him as the Duke of Milan and brings them to the remote island where Prospero lives with his daughter, Miranda, (Elisabeth Waterston), his slave spirit Ariel (Angel Desai) and his other slave, Caliban (Nyambi Nyambi).

Also washing up on the beach are Sebastian and Ferdinand, Alonso’s brother and son (Craig Baldwin and Stark Sands), Trinculo and Stefano, Alonso’s jester and butler (Toy Torn and Steven Rattazzi) and Gonzalo (Yusef Bulos), a counselor of Naples. Plots to kill Alonso and Prospero, grief over lost loved ones, a love match between Ferdinand and Miranda and drunken revelry ensue, but without an anchor, the production only skims the surface of the deep emotions and relationships that might have been explored.

Patinkin, with hands flailing and voice delivering lines at breakneck speed with increasing volume and intensity, conjures images of the late Maurice Evans playing Samantha’s overdramatic Shakespearean father in the TV show “Bewitched.” As we watch him battle a personal storm to force lines out without breaking into song, he seems blown off course, oddly distant from his cast mates and foundering without a lifeline from director Brian Kulick. He finally touches bottom in the second act, particularly when he gets to sing in one of the really pleasing original tunes by Christian Frederickson which are a highlight of the production.

Creatively tattooed Ariel is enchanting as she sings and works her magic, although she wears what looks like a large diaper, one of the few disappointments among Oana Botez-ban’s costumes which feature white, sand colored materials for the beach dwellers and opulent court garb for the visitors. Waterston and Sands are engaging with exchanges that are fresh and full of chemistry. Waterston succeeds in embodying Miranda with a delightful innocent charm and Sands is the most skilled of the troop in making Shakespeare’s verse sound lyrical.

Baldwin and Kenzler give a nice turn as sarcastic co-conspirators and Rattazzi makes a delightful drunk. Less defined is Caliban who, also tattooed, is depicted as a little slow witted, but played by handsome Nyambi, has no noticeable deformity to explain dialogue that describes him as misshapen and horrible to behold. Initial thoughts that casting a black actor here might be a statement about racial prejudice are negated as a multi-ethic cast is revealed.

Distracting is Jian Jung’s set design featuring a large canvas flat with a painting of the sky hung precariously over the players (in a theater that already has a cramped and claustrophobic feel) and re-angled throughout by a visible crew of four using ropes and pulleys anchored to its corners. “The sky is falling,” one observer quipped and it does remain an ominous presence over the action, especially when one character looks up to say, “Oh, heaven” to see heaven itself about a foot from his face.

A square of sand through which the actors walk barefoot is one of the most creative elements of the production, giving life and dimension to the island. It’s hauled away, however, in a labor intensive cleaning of the stage during intermission (this crew surely will have impressive upper body strength by the end of the run) presumably to allow a table prop to roll around the stage in the second half. Patinkin scatters sand around later, but it seems a memorial to the missing magical square.

It was a pleasure, though, to see many young children in the audience, apparently enjoying the experience very much. Kudos go to their parents for realizing the importance of nurturing a love of the classics from an early age.

Christians also might like to know:
Prospero is a magician and spends short amounts of time using magic to manipulate the elements and people

Spirits and Roman gods are depicted

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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