SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — It’s not exactly a tempest in a teapot, but this play by the same name — “The Tempest” — is coming to the Contemporary Theater Company’s outdoor patio stage Friday evening and offers an entertaining version of Shakespeare.
The play’s director, Christopher J. Simpson also the founder of the CTC, brings back for a second time this funny, yet serious, Shakespearean comedy that takes a hard look at revenge and feminism with CTC actors giving imaginary life to an enchanted island.
“It is a story that’s larger than life, scope and everyday reality and unlimited in its fantasy,” said CTC Artistic Director Tammy Brown.
Even if you’ve shied away from Shakespeare in the past, this might be the play to tease your artistic adventurism to come back for more.
Here’s the short version of “The Tempest,” reportedly first performed around 1610-1611. Its themes are timeless in much the same way as its author, William Shakespeare, who died in 1616 at the age of 52 and whose plays are still read in schools and performed on stages across the world today.
How It Starts
It begins with a royal wedding party aboard a ship and encountering a storm – the titular tempest – leaving them fearful they may not survive.
Eventually they land on a remote island, the home of sorcerer Prospero – former Duke of Milan – who lives there with daughter Miranda and two servants, Caliban, a bit fierce and the airy spirit Ariel.
Miranda asks her father to do something to help the those in the shipwreck. He unfolds to her details of their past and connections to those on board.
He points out that he actually caused the shipwreck to happen because his brother, Antonio, with Alonso, King of Naples, were among those on the ship and years earlier had taken away his duke’s position from him.
Left to die on a raft after being kidnapped with his daughter, Prospero benefits from supplies and his books that are the source of his magic power. They arrived on the island where they’ve been for 12 years. Prospero now sees a chance to avenge his fate.
It takes place during one day and follows Aristotelian rules by having a main plot line and occurring in one setting. It is a play, as once described, situated between ocean and land, between dream and reality, between magic and realism, between the New World and the Old.
In many ways, Prospero is the play’s master of ceremonies manipulating characters in both funny and serious ways toward the eventual conclusion.
It has fantasy, music, drama, laughs and intrigue while looking at some serious themes that persist through the centuries since the play was first performed more than 400 years ago. That’s a very long time ago, yet the same contests in life continue.
There’s parent vs. child, master vs. servant, revenge vs. forgiveness, family vs. strangers, human vs. magical, all layering in a complex set of themes for those willing to look beyond the moment and by way of the characters on the stage.
Also it brings out time-held sentiments of the frequent quests for revenge when wrongs felt go so deep and last so long. It also, for the time in which it was written, examines in the light of today some of the struggles of feminism.
Easily seen is the gender imbalance with Miranda, the only principle major female role. Her father has taken away her freedom, but has a duty is to remain chaste. In the view of the 1600s, she has internalized subordination and patriarchy.
The Play’s Return
Director Chris Simpson led both the 2012 production and this 2021 production.
“I feel like I am simultaneously revisiting an old friend and discovering a whole new world of life, music, and magic in what was, for the time, one of our most cutting-edge productions,” says Simpson.
“Ten years of personal and professional growth has given me and the company the opportunity to take a wholly new look at this one, and it is turning out great,” he added.
Cynthia Burke, who previously composed and performed music for the theater’s 2019 production of Hamlet and spent the last two summers improvising music with CTC’s Patio Musical.
She is adding her considerable talent to “The Tempest” with underscoring throughout and collaborating with Sophie Pearson and Ari Kassabian to set the magical spirit Ariel’s lines to music.
“Music for ‘The Tempest’ emerged organically while watching the performers dive into their characters,” said Burke. “Because actors subtly change each performance, the music changes with them. Very little is composed or imposed upon them but breathes and adjusts nightly. The only constant is the brilliant Shakespearean lyrics.”
The cast includes a lot of familiar faces from the CTC stage, such as MJ Daly, who folks may remember as Gertrude in Hamlet, as Prospero, Sophie Pearson, who played Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors and Horatio in Hamlet, as Ariel, and Maggie Papa, who was most recently in this summer’s Fools of Another Nature, as Miranda.
The full cast also includes Devon Andrews, Jazsmin Black, Christine Cauchon, Matt Fraza, Ron Giles, Paula Glen, Tylar Jahumpa, Ari Kassabian, Rebecca Maxfield, Daria-Lyric Montaquila, Neil Motta, and Ryan Sekac.
Because the show will be on the outdoor patio, it is recommended that everyone come prepared – bundled up and with a blanket. The theater will have heaters on the patio and hot drinks at the bar.
Performances are Oct 15-16, 22-23, 24 (5 p.m.), 28-30, Nov 5-6, 12-13 at 7 p.m. Tickets: $30 (Discounted tickets at $20 and $10 available for those in need and anyone under 25). Box Office: 401-218-0282. More information can be found at contemporarytheatercompany.com.