The Lantern Theater production of The Tempest, running through April 29, gets much right in a play that’s hard to do well. Lulled by the poetry, the balmy winds of magic, sleep, and confusion, productions can lose headway, and the play drags when on the page it pulses with life. But despite a couple of dead bits, the Lantern production catches the ache and turbulence in a play of healing and reconciliation.
Avoided is the static, central Prospero of too many Tempests. Peter DeLaurier moves apace for an old guy, bounding around when he must. He has a master-of-ceremonies twinkle in the eye, and conspires with the audience. That’s how the role is written, right down to Prospero’s famous final call for applause. And Ruby Wolf plays his daughter, Miranda, ambushed by the brave new world of sexual desire; all night she fights delightfully between impulse and obedience.
As in many Tempests, the wandering court – King Alonso (here played by John Lopes), old counselor Gonzalo (Frank X), conniving Antonio (J Hernandez), and malleable Sebastian (Dave Johnson) – is the least interesting aspect. Such opportunity lost! Even out here, on this island, Gonzalo is a true adviser, and Antonio a snake, a back-biter. We need to see that. Yet here, in scenes that could be taut and pregnant, Gonzalo gets lost in the mix, and Antonio just does not fire.
Yet the same actors excel in their other roles. Frank X makes a triumphantly absurd Stephano, drunker as the play goes on; Johnson is a greatly silly Trinculo. And Hernandez as Caliban is savage, oppressed, uncomprehending. His “Farewell, master” number, stomping, both tribal dance and hip-hop, is kind of magnificent. In a lovely final moment, stunned to see Prospero offering his hand, he stands fully straight for the first time, human at last.
The Tempest bolts from rage (Prospero at his usurping brother, Antonio) to crazy love (Miranda/Ferdinand) to savage versus cultured (Caliban/Prospero) to magic versus mundane (Ariel/Stephano). No real suspense (everything will be all right) but plenty of winds to calm. That turbulence amid certainty is evoked in large part through movement. A shout-out to circus movement specialist Ben Grinberg, who evinces defining styles for each character: busy, planning Prospero; upright Ferdinand; crabbed Caliban; at-odds-with-herself Miranda; staggering Stephano; undulant Ariel. Bi Jean Ngo was a good Ariel who could not, alas, sing in tune. Her costume allies her with nature; she blends in with the scenery, plays a very persuasive toad. Her shadow plays to entertain the lovers are somewhat backyard Shakespeare, but they suit the intimate space.
Momentum builds to a victory of kindliness. Yet there is an ache at the heart of The Tempest, played in two ways: in King Alonso, grieving for a son who (he believes) is lost, and in Prospero, knowing that as he leaves, he prepares all else – Miranda, Ariel, Caliban – to leave him. Lopes is fine in his recognition of the lost son restored. And Ngo plays her departure well. When Ariel goes, she’s out of here. In her own way, so is Miranda. As is fitting. It takes massive effort for Prospero to break his scepter, but once it’s broken, he, too, is ready to be done.
Through April 29 at the Lantern Theater Company, 10th and Ludlow Streets.
Tickets: $34-$43. Information: 215-829-0395, lanterntheater.org.