The Tempest

For those of you, who miss the outside Shakespeare-Free-For-All at Carter Barron, the Olney Theatre Center offers an opportunity to introduce young audiences to Shakespeare in a family-friendly environment.  The Tempest runs through August 3 on the outside Root Family Stage on the Olney Theatre campus.

The plot of this play can be somewhat confusing.  Prospero, a magician, and his daughter Miranda live on a secluded island inhabited only by two natives Ariel, a spirit, and Caliban, a monster.  Formerly, Prospero was the duke of Milan, but his evil brother Antonio usurped his title with the help of King Alonso. 

As the play begins, Prospero has created a storm to shipwreck the king, the duke, and their retinue.  The islanders can all be identified by a touch of blue in their costumes, while the group from Naples are all in black and white.  In a part much like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ariel is commanded by Prospero to manipulate the visitors from Naples to suit his political plans. 

Miranda and the King’s son Ferdinand provide the romance; Caliban and the King’s jester and butler provide the comedy.  All is well that ends well as Prospero takes a journey from vengeance to forgiveness.  Shakespeare’s final play boasts some of his most beautiful poetry.

The entire cast is composed of veteran and current members of the National Players, America’s longest running touring company.  Craig Wallace brings presence and power to the role of Prospero.  Leah Filley is a girlish and innocent Miranda and Alexander Korman is her handsome love interest.  Julie-Ann Elliott reinterprets the role of Ariel, as more of a contemporary and equal to Prospero, rather than as a Puck-like sprite.  Ryan Mitchell as Caliban is funnier than fierce.

The spare set features a backdrop made entirely of white umbrellas.  White chairs and multicolored umbrellas compose the rest of the set.  The set was surprisingly effective and one audience member described it accurately as “elegant.” 

The child-like, larger than life puppets of the spirits of Iris, Ceres, and Juno, looked out of place with the minimalist, stylized set design and props.  The sound system was a little problematic, perhaps because of the constant drizzle.

Because The Tempest has little action and many long speeches, I would recommend it for ages 10 and up (note: Olney Theatre Center recommends ages 8 and up).  Fortunately, for younger audiences, it is also one of the Bard’s shortest plays. My 14-year old daughter thoroughly enjoyed it.

The sound effects of thunder might scare some children.  The comic plot revolves around Caliban’s discovery of alcohol.  Any other Shakespearean raunchiness will go above children’s heads.

It may not be A Midsummer Night’s Dream but The Tempest is certainly a lovely way to introduce families to the magic of Shakespeare’s poetry.  Bring a raincoat because of the unpredictability of summer tempests, but no umbrellas please, which will block the view.

Note:  A 10 minute sing-a-long by the clowns in the show precedes the performance. Make sure to get a copy of the context guide, which has a helpful synopsis, a guide to the characters, and activity pages.

Other Information

  • The show has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
  • Tickets can be purchased online and are $20 for ages 11 and up and free for kids 10 and under.
  • Be sure to bring a blanket and/or lawn chair, bug spray and a picnic if you choose.
  • Concessions are sold before the show and during intermission.  There is ice cream, chips, candy, soda, beer, and wine.
  • Restrooms are inside the Mainstage building.
  • If there is inclement weather, the performance is moved indoors to the Historic Stage.
  • Join The Tempest’s Stephano and Trinculo and other members of the National Players for a one-hour class on being a clown the Shakespeare way on July 26, 2014 at 5 p.m.  Free for Olney Theatre Center Members; $10 for non-members.

Photo Credits

  • Photo One: Prospero (Craig Wallace) tells his daughter Miranda (Leah Filley) the tale of how they ended up on this magical island in Olney Theatre Center’s production of THE TEMPEST.
  • Photo Two: King Alonso (Ian LeValley – center) and his men are amazed by the magic they encounter on the island.
  • Photos by Stan Barouh
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