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Theater review by Raven Snook
Shakespeare in the Park doesn't start until later this month, but the Public Theater's Mobile Unit is happy to tide you over with a feisty, fast and free rendition of The Tempest. Snappily directed by Laurie Woolery, this streamlined production played at prisons, women's shelters and other nontraditional spaces before arriving downtown for a brief run with its scrappy spirit intact. With the house lights up, a floor-map set and an exuberant multicultural cast of nine playing all the parts (plus assorted instruments) in the round, this Tempest accentuates the silver linings of forgiveness, freedom and love in Shakespeare’s tale.
The casting of a woman of color as Prospero—the rightful Duke of Milan, betrayed and shipwrecked on a remote isle for 12 years—shifts the play’s dynamics. As embodied by Off Broadway stalwart Myra Lucretia Taylor, the character comes off as a wronged earth mother trying to work through her rage rather than a vengeful royal out for blood and restoration to power. She moans and sways as she conjures a storm and casts Santeria-like spells, yet stays surprisingly even-keeled as her scheme for justice unfolds. She also displays maternal affection not just for her daughter, Miranda (Sam Morales, wide-eyed and wonderful), but also for her minion Ariel (the honey-voiced, physically fluid Danaya Esperanza).
Because Taylor’s Prospero is so Zen, this Tempest is less about her arc than the journeys of those around her as they face their sins. But there's only so much time for soul-searching in a production that leans in to the humor of the tragicomedy, especially the anarchic, fourth-wall breaking drunken slapstick between Prospero's angry slave Caliban (a goofy, growly Christopher Ryan Grant) and the senseless servants Stephano and Trinculo (Dan Domingues and Reza Salazar, who also play the villainous Antonio and Sebastian). The performances are broad, the staging is energetic and there are ample opportunities to clap and sing along. Much of the poetry has been excised for the sake of expediency, but this is Shakespeare for the people, not the purists. At this Tempest, all of us are groundlings.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Laurie Woolery. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.