Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ Still Works Its Magic in Oshkosh

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Four hundred seven years later, William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” continues as one of his go-to plays. University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre offers its spirited, fairly straightforward take in three more performances to Sunday in Fredric March Theatre.

Audience members can take the opportunity understand key elements of the play in informational displays in four alcoves of the theater’s side hallways. This dramaturgy is a bonus in going to UW-Oshkosh Theatre productions.

The influence of magic in the culture of Shakespeare’s time is examined in one display; “The Tempest” has a bunch of spell-making through central character Prospero and his obedient spirit Ariel. Another display discusses Caliban and what kind of entity he is – a part-human slave, perhaps?

The three characters are at the heart of the churn of “The Tempest,” and they are played by students dedicated to their roles.

Parker Sweeney is Prospero, the wronged Italian duke who was banished to a remote island and now, through his learned hocus-pocus, is about to gain his comeuppance against his conniving brother.

Garret Johnson is Caliban, the snarling and stinky not-so-obedient slave who gets caught up in murderous plotting – and comedy. (Sweeney and Johnson let their hair grow big time for their roles).

Autumn Christensen is Ariel, who is working off her “indenture” to Prospero by making Prospero’s every magical wish her command. Christensen is particularly nimble, and she creates an engaging character aura in her gesture-filled, slinky, smooth, lithe and limber moves around the stage.

Much in the story turns around Prospero’s anger, which is so pent-up powerful he can create a sea storm that sinks the ship carrying all the good guys/bad guys and some funny folks in his life – and they all survive to meet him. There’s even some tongue-in-cheek first love as Prospero’s daughter, Miranda (Amanda Penkivech), meets dapper Ferdinand (Matthew Pepinski); even though Ferdinand is the only man she’s ever seen aside from her father, Miranda finds Ferdinand is THE guy for her.

Shenanigans weave in. Some are potentially deadly. Antonio (Logan Lang, as Prospero’s brother) and Sebastian (Maxwell Benitz, brother of conspiring king Alonso, played by Bryan Carter) are seconds away from an assassination plot. Some shenanigans are pure fun. In a rousing round of drunkenness, Caliban and court jesters Stephano (Matthew Beecher) and Trinculo (Kaitlyn Polka) plan to bump off Prospero. Raucous comedic futility fills the stage with these three.

Much of the action takes place on a raked stage – the better for the audience to see the players at a distance. Caliban’s lair is beneath a trap door near the rear.

Some special effects heighten scenes.  Magical/mystical fog starts the mystique aura to open the play. Echo microphone use enhances the voices of Prospero and Ariel at key moments.

Costuming focuses on the wear of the time of Shakespeare, with a lot of regal flair of many of the characters. Prospero’s magic-making robe is a blue lame, which would have been quite sensational back in the day.

Director Merlaine Angwall and her creative colleagues and their students tap into the complex brand of storytelling Shakespeare instilled in the play. There is so much in “The Tempest,” still.

***

Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; director – Merlaine Angwall; costume designer – Kathleen Donnelly; light design – Mick Alderson; scenic design – Roy Hoglund; sound design – Peter Abraham; production dramaturg – Christine Roth; dramaturg apprentice – Abby Turner; technical director – Mick Alderson; production stage manager – Shelby Edwards; props – Daria Chirhart

Cast: Prospero – Parker Sweeney; Alonso – Bryan Carter; Sebastian – Maxwell Benitz; Antonio – Logan Lang; Ferdinand – Matthew Peplinski; Gonzalo – Vinnie Noel Albin, Jr.; Caliban – Garret Johnson; Trunculo – Kaitlyn Polka; Stephano – Matthew Beecher; Miranda – Amanda Penkivech; Ariel – Autumn Christensen; Iris – Hannah Olsen; Ceres – Kate Sawyer; Juno – Bethany Kitowski; Spirits – Rachel Larson, Kim Boyer, Rachel Gramlow, Tyler Hahn; Boatswain – John Zarbano

Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. April 27, 28; 2 p.m. April 29

Info: theatre.uwosh.edu

***

THE VENUE: The 498-seat Fredric March Theatre includes a traditional proscenium (flat front stage) that’s 40 feet wide by 16 feet high. Built in 1971, the theater is located in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh campus. The exterior features a 1970s era UW campus architectural style that embraces cement, in this case the cement reminiscent of geometric trees supporting a flat roof on the glass-enclosed entry and lobby. The interior features honeycombed red-brick walls and a slightly arcing seating area with no center aisle, with a general impression of closeness to the stage, which is especially wide. Leg room is abundant. The acoustics are crisp for the spoken voice in plays.

THE PERSON: Fredric March was a famous actor who was born in 1897 in Racine. March had no direct connection with UW-Oshkosh prior to the naming of the theater. He earned the honor due to the respect for his level of performance on Broadway and film – and being from Wisconsin. March and his wife attended the grand opening. March earned best actor Oscars for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” He earned three Oscar nominations.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

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