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The Tempest
4.0Reviewer's Rating

In the beginning of The Tempest, the audience is asked if we have ever felt enough rage that would raise a tempest with the sheer force of our anger. A loaded question in a city where people seem to be perpetually stressed, in a country where we’re tearing each other to pieces. But despite the titular storm that kicks off this magnificent Shakespeare play, the Public Theater Mobile Unit’s The Tempest is a magical adventure of forgiveness, redemption, and love.

On an island somewhere off the coast of Italy, Prospero the exiled Duke of Milan lies in wait. Having been banished from her rightful kingdom by her usurping brother, she was forced to raise her daughter Miranda as an outcast and has spent her years learning sorcery, scheming to reclaim her rightful place as the leader of Milan and to give Miranda a better life. Her opportunity arrives in the form of a ship carrying a slew of Italian royalty, including her brother the usurper as well as the King of Naples. With her powerful magic and just a little bit of help from a native sprite, Prospero wrecks the ship on her island, stranding the seafarers in her domain and at her mercy.

One of the Public Theater’s greatest accomplishments is their famously free Shakespeare in the Park. But – as the cast of the Mobile Unit readily admits – while the popular park phenomenon might be economically available to everyone, serious barriers, like time and geography, remain in place for most New York communities. This is the purpose of the Mobile Unit – they bring Shakespeare to the community, performing at shelters, churches, libraries, and correctional facilities in all five boroughs.

Prospero is brought to life with power and versatility by Myra Lucretia Taylor. Her Prospero is austere, like many interpretations, but also likes to laugh, and is a loving mother above all else. Beyond the gravitas that Taylor herself brought to the role, it feels important to state that obvious – that this Prospero is a woman. And Woolery and the cast explore all the added nuance of this interpretation skillfully.

There is an added intimacy in the relationship between Prospero and her daughter Miranda (Sam Morales): two women cast off from the world together. Prospero’s elaborate scheming to protect her daughter strikes a deeper chord than that of an overbearing father – she is a woman who has seen how quickly men will turn on her, and she is trying to secure her daughter’s future in a world where she won’t have to fear for her safety. Not that Miranda herself (Sam Morales) isn’t a formidable woman. Far from being the flouncy ingenue that she’s often portrayed as, Miranda is the obvious product of her mother’s fierce love and careful upbringing. You get the sense that she has inherited her mother’s innate power. Miranda is dressed like a huntress, sporting a quiver on her back full of sticks that she has no problem reaching for should she need them. And she participates easily in her mother’s magic.

There are so many characters (and characters’ brothers) in this play that it can feel overwhelming on the page. But the cast does a brilliant job of making each one of them memorable – from the dancing drunkards Stephano and Trinculo, to the black-browed conspirators Antonio and Sebastian (played by the same actors). Ariel the sprite is a marvelous performance by Danaya Esperanza, who creates an intriguing balance between a mischief-loving magical being and a trapped and desperate woman, working her way to freedom. Ariel’s singing and mesmerizing dancing (she is constantly undulating, even when she’s just standing still) is a large part of what creates the magical atmosphere that descends upon the room.

Despite the informal setting and the minimal set, the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit once again creates a world that is all too easy to lose yourself in. The cast puts forth warm, accessible performances that you might feel are designed specifically for you, the audience. They prove themselves, yet again, up to the task of curating a Shakespearean experience that will find new treasures and pull new heartstrings.

  • Drama
  • By William Shakespeare
  • Directed by Laurie Woolery
  • Cast includes: Jasai Chase-Owens, Dan Domingues, Danaya Esperanza, Christopher Ryan Grant, Sam Morales, Nancy Rodriguez, Reza Salazar, Myra Lucretia Taylor, J.D. Webster

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