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Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s THE TEMPEST is all that and a bag of chips (or whatever is in your picnic basket on the hill)

THE BASICS:  THE TEMPEST by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park, directed by Saul Elkin runs through July 14, Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:15 p.m. (NOTE NEW START TIME), on “Shakespeare Hill” near Marcy Casino in Delaware Park (856-4533). No admission is charged, but “goodwill offerings” are solicited by the actors during intermission. Runtime: 2-1/2 hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  (adapted from SIDP’s website) Prospero was the Duke of Milan, Italy, but as he more and more buried his nose in books and left the management of the state to his brother Antonio, eventually, with the help of Alonso (King of Naples) and Alonso’s brother Sebastian, there was a coup, and Prospero and his baby daughter Miranda were put to sea in a rotting boat to die. But they did not perish, thanks to water and food secretly stored on the ship by the good Gonzalo, and eventually father and daughter came to a distant island that was once ruled by the witch Sycorax but was now inhabited only by her somewhat monstrous son, Caliban, as well as Ariel, a spirit. Since arriving, Prospero has ruled the island and its two inhabitants by the use of magic he learned from his books.  His daughter Miranda has grown up seeing no other human beings.

When the play begins, fortune has brought Prospero’s enemies on a ship close to his island, giving him an opportunity to seek revenge.  He has Ariel use both his and her own powers to raise a storm which seems to shipwreck their vessel but actually casts them all safely on shore.  At Prospero’s command, the invisible Ariel leads the travelers in different directions as they wander about the island.  Separating Ferdinand, the King’s son, from his father Alonso, Ariel leads Ferdinand to Miranda where the young couple falls instantly in love.  Prospero is immensely pleased, but nevertheless sets heavy tasks to test Ferdinand’s love for Miranda as well as keep him busy.

Meanwhile, Alonso searches for his son, fearing he has drowned, while Alonso’s own brother Sebastian conspires with Prospero’s brother Antonio to kill Alonso and seize the crown of Naples.  Meanwhile, Stephano, a drunken butler, and Trinculo, the jester, encounter Caliban, who convinces them to kill Prospero so that the three can rule the island.  However, Ariel manages to intercede, and the three plotters are soon bickering amongst themselves.

As Prospero’s plan draws to its climax, he vows that he will abandon his magic arts and free Ariel even as he confronts his enemies and forgives them.  With the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda, the rift between Naples and Milan is healed.

Photo credit: LA Promotional Design

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  This TEMPEST is one of the most entertaining SIDPs in many years and one reason for is that several of the “minor” characters are played by “major” talents. Usually, for me, following Shakespeare’s big plot points is easy, although sometimes the little intrigues get fuzzy especially if there are disguises involved, but the so-called “clever verbal jousting” or sparring or back-and-forth between minor characters rarely makes it past the 16th or early 17th century. Talk about “dad jokes.” These jokes, folks, are over 400 years old. There is a saying on stage (attributed to many) “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” So hard, in fact, that only master actors can sell it, and we had two:

If Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane had had a love child, it could have been Norm Sham. And if Michael Caine and Stan Laurel had done the same, it could have been Chris J. Handley. Handley and Sham, both members of Actor’s Equity, are two of Buffalo’s greatest, and here they are playing Alonso’s court jester Trinculo and his drunken friend, the butler Stephano. If you only went to see these two, you’d be glad of it. But wait, there’s more.

Perhaps no other Shakespeare play has inspired more composers to write music for the lyrics provided as well as incidental music than THE TEMPEST, including Sir Arthur Sullivan, Jean Sibelius, and Hector Berlioz to name a few heavy hitters. The music in this production, either expertly curated, or arranged, or composed by Tom Makar is very special and at every turn is on point to set the scene. In addition, Tom plays good guy and FOP (Friend of Prospero) Gonzalo.

Don’t be late, because at exactly 7:15 all hell breaks loose, with thunder, lightning, serious music, and one beautifully choreographed storm at sea.

And speaking of scenes, don’t be late, because at exactly 7:15 all hell breaks loose, with thunder, lightning, serious music, and one beautifully choreographed storm at sea. A fine job by all, including actor Brett Klaczyk (bad guy Antonio) who gets caught in the ship’s line and sent ass-over-teakettle across the deck. Just as last year’s MACBETH, this is a very physical play, and lots of care went into it from Director Saul Elkin, Asst. Director/Fight Director Steve Vaughan, Choreographer Terri Filips Vaughan, Dance Captain (and Spirit) Heather Casseri, and Fight Captain (and Boatswain) Agnelo Heimowitz. And let’s mention boat captain played by Fredonia sophomore Joseph Marciniak, son of Dave.

Photo credit: LA Promotional Design

Dave Marciniak is one of those protean actors who can apparently play anything, and here he is with a very different Prospero, not all filled with rage and revenge, but a loving father, who is willing to sacrifice some to give his daughter Miranda a future. The daughter is played by Christine Turturro who last year, as a senior at NU, knocked me out as the belligerent daughter Marty Alba in THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, and this year, not quite graduated, was already Artie nominated for her role as the feisty daughter in THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW, and here she is as Miranda, the spirited daughter of Prospero.

Playing Ariel was Robyn Lee Horn, seen most recently as grown-up Alison in FUN HOME. Great actor and what a singing voice! She was usually accompanied by three spirits (think dancers) played by Heather Casseri, James DeLano, and Zach Gammel. Nicely choreographed. The other “native” included Phil Wackerfuss as Caliban, the monster, who crawls and slithers and leaps most convincingly. If he looks familiar, it could be because he was with the eclectic and explosive Lehrer Dance company (the troupe that could literally climb up walls) for many years.

And, I’ll end with the “four guys in tights.” David Lundy is a local treasure, and one of the busiest actors, always in demand, and when you go to see him as Alonso in THE TEMPEST you’ll see why. His on-stage son, Ferdinand, the love interest of Miranda, is played by Brendan Didio, and he presents as the nice boy from next door, too funny as he tries to please both Miranda who is obviously VERY interested in this exciting creature, unlike anything she’s known, and he also tries to please her father, who, while approving the relationship, is trying to keep a lid on things until after the marriage. It’s all quite skillfully played out.

Antonio, who already put Prospero out to sea without a prayer, now plots to kill Prospero’s successor, Alonso, and brainwashes Sebastian, played by Brendan Cunningham, into thinking this is a good idea. Alonso is a bad dude, and to emphasize that, he’s dressed in solid black, except for a neck ruffle, and when he grins through his black beard, his white teeth flash into the back the hill. Gotcha!

SIDP says: “You may bring food, soda, water, wine, beer, etc.  All we ask is that you respect the beautiful park and dispose of your garbage.” Now, for some reason, when I went on the fourth night, there were very few picnic hampers. I myself brought Sabra classic humus and pita bread for an appetizer, romaine salad with rotisserie chicken strips delicately seasoned with Ken’s Zesty Italian for an entrée, with watermelon slices for dessert, all washed down with a fine vintage bottle of Lake Erie tap water, aged about two hours in my fridge.

The SIDP also advises: “You may bring lawn chairs and/or blankets. The area closest to the stage at the bottom of the hill is reserved for blankets only, the top of the hill allows for blankets and chairs.” Well, at my age, I’m not a blanket sitter; I’m a beach chair toter, but….. if you want to, for a fee, you can reserve a special hill-appropriate chair which will be placed for you “center stage” (call 856-4533). Bring a little cash for the solicited donation at intermission as well as for a raffle ticket to win unique, hand crafted jewelry that is worn by Miranda during the show.

Lead image photo credit: LA Promotional Design

NEXT: Shakespeare’s LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, July 25 – August 18, 2019 also on “Shakespeare Hill.”

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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