Theater Reviews

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Venue: Classic Stage Company, New York

Through Oct. 12

Star Mandy Patinkin makes an aggressive, angry Prospero in the Classic Stage Company's vivid new production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest."

For this is a determinedly anti-romantic "Tempest" that CSC artistic director Brian Kulick has staged. Comedy and aggression rule, and even traditionally delicate interludes like the love scenes between Miranda (Elisabeth Waterston) and Ferdinand (Stark Sands) are played for humorous gawkiness.

Kulick's excellent achievement here, in fact, is to find the various layers of comedy and provoke laughter even in Shakespeare's opaque expository scenes. Who knew that the tempest-tossed royals washed ashore on Prospero's enchanted isle could be funny as well as arrogant?

As for that farcical drunken pair, Stephano (the marvelous Steven Rattazzi) and Trinculo (the equally wonderful Tony Torn), this critic has never seen a better rendition. Their comic shenanigans highlight that Caliban (Nyambi Nyambi), who becomes their servant in hopes they will unseat the tyrannical Prospero, is a disquieting, pitiful figure.

The downside of this imaginative comic interpretation is that the poetry-laced scenes involving Prospero and his captive sprite, Ariel (Angel Desai), fall a bit flat. Patinkin often speaks the verse in a rushed monotone. This Prospero does not seem to have become more thoughtful after years of exile, and one can easily imagine him back in Milan, ordering people about and trading barbs with the best of them.

Indeed, for a play that describes a magical if sometimes threatening island universe, Kulick has provided a nonmagical ambiance. Jian Jung's set, which frequently calls for a large flat to be lowered and raised over the center of the stage, is distracting. The islanders' baggy, bleached-out costumes look more odd than exotic.

But vitality and clarity are here aplenty, making this "Tempest" a pleasurable and revelatory theatrical experience.

Cast: Craig Baldwin, Yusef Bulos, Angel Desai, Karl Kenzler, Nana Mensah, Nyambi Nyambi, Bhavesh Patel, Mandy Patinkin, Michael Potts, Steven Rattazzi, Stark Sands, Tony Torn, Elisabeth Waterston. Playwright: William Shakespeare. Director: Brian Kulick. Set design: Jian Jung. Costume design: Oana Botez-Ban. Lighting design: Brian Scott. Original music & sound design: Christian Frederickson

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