SOUTH SALT LAKE — Indians creeping around, cowboys drawing guns, and a grizzled prospector who stinks to high heaven. These sights from the Old West are on the stage at the Utah Children’s Theatre this month. Surprisingly, though, these characters aren’t part of a story about a shootout or a stagecoach robbery. Rather, this is a production of The Tempest.
The setting of the play provided the director (Matthew Windham) with many opportunities to give new twists to this classic Shakespeare play. Instead of a half-human monster, Windham chose to make Caliban a prospector who had not bathed in weeks. Likewise, Sebastian was played by a woman dressed in high class Old West fashion, which made the character and her relationships with other characters more interesting than in a typical production.
However, I feel that the setting also detracted from the story. The western drawls in the play made it difficult to understand some of the performers, such as Tyler Boegler (as Antonio) and Walter G. Mecham (as Alonso) in the scene where they arrive on the island. Moreover, the masque scene performed by Ariel and the other spirits was mundane and uninteresting (and not, as Ferdinand called it, “the most majestic vision”), probably because a Jacobean masque simply doesn’t have an equivalent in 19th century America. Thankfully, the scene was short.
Despite these minor shortcomings, the play was generally a success. Morgan Fenner Western (as Miranda) was particularly charming; Western was adept at conveying Miranda’s emotions in every scene. Her first moments on stage were enveloped in compassion, and her love scenes in the later part of the play were well executed. I also enjoyed the portrayal of Caliban (Landon Kraczek). This Caliban was more comedic than most I have scene, and I think that the cartoony version of the character helped make The Tempest more appropriate for children. A humorous Caliban also helped emphasize the almost completely relentless comedic scenes that the character had with Stephano (Bryson Dumas), Stephana (Allison Froh), and Trinculo (another actor unnamed in the program).
Handling the difficult role of Prospero was Oran Marc de Baritault, whose stoic bearing and imposing figure made it easy to believe that he was ruler of the island that the play takes place on. De Baritault’s performance was particularly touching in the final scene where Prospero forgives his brother Antonio and frees Ariel. This satisfying concluding scene was so well performed that it eclipsed all the other scenes in its level of emotion. On the other hand, Cameron Colony was not as engaging as I had seen him that same day in Breakfast with Shakespeare. He had some cute moments with Western, but there was very little variation in his performance of Ferdinand. I don’t blame Colony, though. Compared to many of Shakespeare’s other romantic roles (like Romeo, Claudio, and Valentine and Proteus), Ferdinand doesn’t actually do much. My gripes about the performance probably have more to do with the material he was given (especially in a bare bones cutting of the script) rather than about Colony’s work itself.
Finally, it is important to mention the fun visual elements of this production of The Tempest. The costumes (designed by Christina Wilson) did much to establish the Old West environment of the play. The women’s dresses were beautiful and helped the female cast members create characters that were a blend of modern, Renaissance, and Old West personalities. The set (designed by James Parker) was simple, but provided a many options for blocking and movement that Windham took full advantage of. I enjoyed seeing characters slide down the small ramps on the stage or enter the stage in surprising ways. And the lighting (also by Parker) was gorgeous through most of the play. The shipwreck scene was made much more spectacular by the lighting effects, and the result was a memorable and attention grabbing start to the show.
In short, Utah has again received another excellent production of The Tempest. Readers shouldn’t be fooled by the fact that it’s produced by the Utah Children’s Theatre, however. Yes, it is short, fun, and pleasing enough for children. But most adult audience members will also enjoy the performances. Therefore, I think it’s more fair to call The Tempest a nice Shakespeare production that families, theatre lovers, dating couples, and senior citizens can enjoy, not merely a production for young audiences who are accompanied by their parents.