The Column Online



by William Shakespeare

Dallas Theater Center

Directed by Kevin Moriarty
Stage and Costume Design - Beowulf Boritt
Lighting Design - Clifton Taylor
Sound Design & Compostion - Daniel Baker and Aaron Meicht of
Broken Chord Collective
Speech and Vocal Coach - Thom Jones
Stage Manager - Kevin Bertolacci

CAST in order of appearance

Chamblee Ferguson - Prospero
Abbey Siegworth - Miranda
Matthew Tomlanovich - Alonso
Christopher Carlos - Sebastian
J. Brent Alford - Ferdinand
Jerry Russell - Gonzalo
John Paul Green - Adrian
John Dana Kenning - Francisco
Cliff Miller - Trinculo
Lee Trull - Stephano
David Price - Master of a ship
Joe Nemmers - Caliban
Hunter Ryan Herdlicka - Ariel

Reviewed Performance: 9/16/2011

Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Much is written and analyzed about Shakespeare's The Tempest as to its origin. Thought of as a completely solo work, some felt it was his swan song, a farewell to his art, as read in the play's Epilogue.

Others said it was based on an incident two years before, in 1609, of a ship separated from the fleet headed for the New World and wrecked on a Bermuda island. By way of a miraculous deliverance a year later, the crew and passengers wrote of their survival by the "magically beneficent nature of the island on which they found themselves". Our centuries brought up ideas of colonizing, enslaving and issues of race.

The one defining expression of this, the last of Shakespeare's works, is the question of nature versus art, or as I heard from some of the play's actors and director, "nature versus nurture". This concerns the importance of one's innate qualities versus personal experiences or behaviors. While I cannot wholly embrace that theory, I can state that their production of The Tempest will open minds to debate the superiority of nature to "civilization". To my mind they succeed in presenting such a debate with visual magic to delight and dexterity of the words to ponder.

The Tempest is most often performed with hard-hitting performances pounded into audiences' minds like the ocean pounds the island's shores. This play began in the same vein but then rapidly took another direction. In the briefest possible synopsis, a storm shipwrecks King Alonso of Naples, his crew and governmental men on an island. They include Antonio who usurped his brother Prospero's Milan dukedom.

Prospero is now a sorcerer who landed on the supernatural island with his daughter Miranda twelve years earlier. He orders his spirit Ariel to cause the storm so as to seek out his revenge on those who cast him out. Also onboard is Ferdinand, the king's son, who finds himself alone on another part of the island. Accidently meeting Miranda, they fall instantly in love. Fearing deception, Prospero enslaves Ferdinand to hard labor. Another of his slaves, the monstrous son of a witch, Caliban, plots his freedom by pledging himself to the king's jester and butler while some of the "civilized" lords' plot against each other for power. Tricks are played, spells are cast and broken, plots thwarted, lovers unite, the unnatural are subdued and the play ends with Prospero's melancholy petition for forgiveness.

In their four year cycle of Shakespeare plays, DTC has or will produce a comedy, history, tragedy and this, which they labeled a romance. For me, the love interest was minimal while the romance found in the story was of a more magical nature. I saw it as a tragic-comedy ? buffoonish characters who got into the expected trouble, and then both "civilized" men's behavior as they were stripped down to nature alongside Prospero's sacrifice of his mystical world for his daughter's sake and return to govern his country.

This production also stripped itself down to the basics for the sake of the play. Being an open, thrust stage, the set revealed two rows of airplane seating set inside a crime scene-like chalk outline of the jet airplane on black flooring. As the storm began and lightening hit, the passengers abandoned the plane as the seats plummeted down a hole. The flooring and back wall were "blown away" to reveal a blinding white section of the magical island. Talking to DTC's Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty afterward, I learned that while directing the play, he and Set and Costume Designer Beowulf Boritt envisioned using an all natural grassy island but that the actors, and therefore the play, kept disappearing into it. Moriarty saw an unpainted model of the set and, as so often happens, they both found their design quite by accident (and here I was getting all intellectual, looking for deep symbolism in snow or salt or. . . . ?).

The main playing area was a huge semicircle of stark white earth that, at the edge, jaggedly broke away and dropped off as though at world's end. White outcrops of tall rock holding up leafless trees made for excellent acting and viewing levels while a deep hole under the rock and large cutout circle in the stage floor brought a literal underworld feel. The magnificent iridescent and crumpled back cyc separated this island from the rest of the world.

Accentuating the stage with bold choices, the lighting design by Clifton Taylor visually defined this supernatural place. He took lighting a black and then white set in stride and used pure tonal colors to emphasize different characters' audience asides. The crisp, alarming lightening flashes were most effective and perfectly timed blasts of color were impeccable.

Original music and sound effects created by Daniel Baker and Aaron Meicht powerfully supported the play in scenes such as the storm, plane crash, and Prospero's anger. Then, just as powerfully, they created delicate synthesizer sounds of nature and animals, and melodies set way in the background for almost imperceptible, gentle mood shifts. Ariel's lilting, hypnotic songs added another layer of depth to that role.

Keeping with the absence of color in the set, the costumes were divided into black and white, civilized and natural. The King, Duke and entourage were in dark suited finery, Armani or not. The pilots (or master of the ship and boatswain as written) were decked in smart airline uniforms. Having been on the island for so long, Prospero was now dressed in white shirt, rolled up white pants and long khaki trench coat for his magic robe. Miranda looked every bit a beach comer in faded jeans or shorts and white shirt. The unnatural, Ariel and Caliban, wore white rolled-waist, loose palazzo pants, no shirt and pale white body makeup. Both Trinculo the jester and Stephano the butler were attired in short, black, bolero-style jackets and pants befitting their servitude.

As the play progressed and the nature of the island settled on the new visitors, their clothing became more whitened, they lost jackets to reveal white shirts and, if they had stayed longer, they all might have completely faded into nothingness. Then, as Propero broke his spells and his magic dissolved, the suits of black returned and many of those in white were set free or banished. Even Prospero put back on his shackled dark suit as he released his magic back to the island from whence it came. The only standout color in a costume came from the crimson red-gowned flying harpy, complete with skull head. I particularly loved the idea of bony skeleton fingers for wings.

The Tempest was one of Shakespeare's shorter works but Director Moriarty cut out some of the superfluous characters such as the Boatswain, other mariners, and several named spirits, and again kept the story to the basics. Playing without intermission the production ran smoothly and almost effortlessly, so unlike other versions I had seen. The usual interpretations and directions had Prospero as tyrannical and angered, Miranda as naive and silly, Ariel as a Puckish imp, Caliban as horrific and evil, and all the other characters as secondary. Not so this production. Great care was taken to incorporate the island as a character unto itself ? an entity that held great sway on its inhabitants both old and new. The characters, while still seeking revenge and vengeance, or love, or freedom, were all deeply focused on their intent, not flailing through their actions and lines. This Tempest had a strange calmness to it as though all the tumult and uproar came from within each character as opposed to around them.

Abbey Siegworth as Miranda and Steven Michael Walters as Ferdinand had lovely but quiet chemistry as the youthful couple in love. I always chuckle at how fast Shakespeare made courtships and both actors pulled off the naivet? of the romance well.

J. Brent Alford as Antonio, Prospero's brother and usurper of the dukedom, and Christopher Carlos as Sebastian, the king's brother, held the villain roles and allowed their scenes and the words to guide their actions rather than using their characters' typical traits. Both were restrained but menacingly effective. Jerry Russell played the counselor and Prospero's friend Gonzalo with wizened humility and grace.

Cliff Miller and Lee Trull made the perfect comedy team of Trinculo and Stephano, sparring off each other to heighten their scenes with most of the play's laughter.

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka made a beautiful and intelligent Ariel ? one who knew he held freedom in his hand but wished to serve Prospero to his destiny. He was less a flighty sprite and more a friend. Herdlicka had a most haunting tenor voice and amazing ability to sing difficult songs semi acappella with only soft off the beat harmony.

From the moment of his surprising entrance, Joe Nemmers was completely and utterly Caliban. With a possible nod to the genius of Andy Serkis' chimp interpretation, Nemmers' every move, every stance or squat, every arm gesture or head turn was animalistic and primal. To hunch and cower low to the ground for long periods took great physical strength. This was a Caliban more of bluff than brutality; more a creature to be pitied than feared, for what his world and life had become. For once, this Caliban held great interest and Nemmers performed him admirably.

The character interpreted most differently was that of Prospero, played by Chamblee Ferguson. An unusual casting, surprising even him, his was a more introspective sorcerer full of regret and guilt as much as vengeance and cunning. He lowered his enemies with his eyes and I appreciated Ferguson's understanding that Prospero would hold more power in his wisdom and words of truth than he would in vocal volume and physicality. It was a unique choice by actor and director and it paid off in a solid, meaningful performance.

I found Dallas Theater Center's The Tempest a refreshing, thought-filled play and a worthy production. I hope people will see it for its unique take on one of Shakespeare's best works as much as for its spectacle and beauty. I was however most surprised to see that all seats were not filled on an opening night of a DTC production, even Shakespeare. To help alleviated that, and to honor the 25th anniversary of the Project Discovery program, ALL single tickets to ALL performances of The Tempest are $25 each with Area 4 and Youth tickets at $15.

Project Discovery was created to "build bridges between theatrical programs and the educational work being taught in local schools". The National Endowment for the Arts' Shakespeare for a New Generation grant funded a portion of the season's Project Discovery.

This makes going to this play much more accessible and leaves no excuses to attend one of the most original versions of The Tempest you are likely to see in the metroplex for years to come.

Dallas Theater Center
Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, AT&T Performing Arts Center
2400 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Plays through October 9th

Tuesdays ? Thursdays at 7:30 pm (except Sept. 20th), Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00pm and select Sundays at 7:30 pm.


For information and to purchase tickets, please go to or call