The Tempest by Shakespeare & Company

Avery Breyne-Cartwright and Kathy Kohlstedt in The Tempest. Photo by Tim Perfect.

Avery Breyne-Cartwright and Kathy Kohlstedt in The Tempest. Photo by Tim Perfect.

There are some fine places to see William Shakespeare’s plays presented outdoors each summer and one of the best is on White Bear Lake’s Century College campus where Shakespeare & Company has been performing for more than 40 summer seasons. Its versatile stage is set in the woods and borders a lovely nature preserve. This idyllic spot is a perfect place to stage Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with its island setting and cast of displaced characters.

Shakespeare & Co’s Tempest is a gender-neutral production, which features a woman (a commanding Kathy Kohlstedt) in the lead role of Prospero—or in this case Prospera—as the magician and the former Duchess of Milan. She, along with her daughter Miranda (Leah Christine), have been exiled for years on a wild island in the rough sea. The isle’s original inhabitants: the earthy monster, Caliban (well-played and well-spoken by Taylor Evans) and the ethereal sprite, Ariel (lithe Avery Breyne-Cartwright) have been forced to do Prospera’s bidding. When the play opens Prospera has decided it is time to take her revenge on those who banished her. She whips up a storm to shipwreck her adversaries and draw them to her island.

Tempest is not easy to produce, with its multiple story lines, many long speeches, and characters from all stations in life, only some of which are human. As is usual for an out-of-doors production, the play has been judiciously cut by director George M. Roesler. Summer audiences accept less nuanced performances from actors who often must shout their lines and use large gestures. This show is short and action packed, while preserving the overriding sense of the play.

The opening shipwreck scene is a case in point. It is difficult to stage under any conditions and is too long by half for most modern audiences. Roesler trims it down to size. Likewise with the marriage ceremony. In this production Ariel’s cohorts recite Sonnet 116, a goodly choice, rather than the written text, heavy with classical references that few audience members understand. This may not be acceptable at the Royal Shakespeare but it works well under an evening sky in Minnesota.

Still, there are some fine moments in this production such as when Caliban makes his first iguana-like appearance hanging in a pine tree, and when Ariel gently reminds Prospera of the virtue of empathy.

It is easy to get carried away with a show like Tempest, its sorcery and inhuman characters invite gimmicks, but it’s a temptation that can shipwreck a production with too much high-concept folderol. In this production, the inventive costumes (Bobbie Iverson-Roesler, designer) go a long way to decorate the mostly bare Shakespearean stage and the sound effects are suitably eerie without being over the top.

The Tempest plays in repertory with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Learned Ladies by Moliere, now through July 31st. Tickets are reasonably priced. The grounds of this outdoor theatre accommodate bring-your-own lawn chairs or blankets and whatever picnic basket and food you wish to tote along.

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