Review: Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ at Thunder River in Carbondale
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘The Tempest,’ presented by Thunder River Theatre Company
Where: Lon Winston Theatre, Carbondale
When: Through March 11
How much: $15-$30
William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” begins in chaos and ends in peace. It’s filled with magic, and dives deep into the choices between retribution and reconciliation.
In Thunder River Theatre Company’s new production of the late career Shakespearean fantasy, the opening shipwreck is a riotous show-stopper of a sequence that makes memorable use of the modest black box theater. Cast members run and scream across the (literally) shaking rafters high above the stage as others yell from technical booths.
After that disorienting opening, most of the action is in the play’s power struggles, as the usurped duke and all-powerful sorcerer Prospero battles the shipwrecked royalty he has summoned to his remote island.
Playing Prospero, the epically bearded Jeff Carlson – himself a Lutheran pastor in Glenwood Springs – brings both authority and humanity to the mystic, giving us a man who wields absolute power in his spells but who ultimately chooses love and forgiveness over wrath.
The production includes scene-stealing work by two of the valley’s standout character actors – Owen O’Farrell and Gerald DeLisser – as Trinculo and Stephano, the drunken fools who plot murders and cook up their own plan to overthrow Prospero. Fortified with the wine from the shipwreck, they stumble about the island cracking wise and hatching hair-brained plots.
Costumer Madeline Miles – who has outfitted the cast in contemporary formalwear and put Prospero in religious vestments – also clearly had some fun dressing this bumbling and mischievous pair. O’Farrell, for instance, wears plaid pants with a yellow shirt with an oversized red bowtie, suspenders and Paddington Bear hat.
The 12-member cast performs shoeless on drop cloths in a simple set. A tower of bleached wood rises from the center, suggesting the wild island and otherworldly atmosphere.
In our current moment of political tumult and bitter national division, a viewer could see any number of timely parallels in this production of “The Tempest” – the use of power, the perils of blind ambition, the hopeful path to reconciliation between enemies, and the abuse of the underclass represented by Prospero’s “servant monster” Caliban (Nathan Cox) and his loyal fairy Ariel (Trary Madalone). Of the many wise lessons in the many spooling subplots, though, the one that unexpectedly struck me was epitomized in the romance between the castaway Ferdinand (Nick Garay) and Prospero’s daughter Miranda (Gabrielle Bailes). Their heady, head-over-heals courtship – and the joy it brings to Prospero – is a reminder that, even in the darkest of times, life goes on amid the chaos.
The final speech of the play – believed to be the last Shakespeare wrote, and to be his farewell to the theater – includes a direct address from Prospero to the audience, asking for applause (“With the help of your good hands:/ Gentle breath of yours my sails/ Must fill, or else my project fails…”). In this production, the cast remains on stage with Prospero for the finale, and share lines in the speech. It’s a sweet moment.
On the Thunder River production’s opening night, it was all the sweeter, as it was followed by the dedication of the theater in Thunder River founder Lon Winston’s name, and a tribute to the passionate stalwart of the local stage. Winston retired last summer after 21 years at the helm of the company. He’s returned to direct and design this thoughtful production, which runs through March 11.
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