Smile Politely

CU Theatre Company’s Tempest delivers such stuff as dreams are made on

I’m a Shakespeare geek. Not your ordinary run-of-the-mill Shakespeare geek either; it borders on Bardolatry. As a student, I spent every Friday afternoon in the 8th-floor closet of my college library (literally a closet with a VHS player, one rickety chair, and my copy of Shakespeare’s plays) until I’d seen every play. Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, is a surreal exploration of power and control on an island of magic. In the more than capable hands of Latrelle Bright and Misty Martin, the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company transports us to time out of time with depth and whimsy, two of Shakespeare’s greatest gifts.

Casting The Tempest invites directors and actors to play with roles and CUTC’s production utilizes every ounce of the gender fluidity Shakespeare loved. Amanda Orwick commands the stage as Prospero, a Duke with serious control issues enhanced by a heavy dose of wizardry. That magic and control are embodied by Ariel, played magnificently by three airy and harmonious sprites, Yahli Baskan, Sophia Colon, and Suhani Garg.

CUTC’s Tempest teases out the intrigue while spotlighting the complicated relationships between siblings in Prospero and Antonio (played by the sublimely usurping Kevin Wickart), and between Prospero and his sheltered daughter Miranda, played by the evocative and dynamic Carissa Yau. Here too, directors Bright and Martin shaped their nontraditional casting of Miranda’s love interest, Ferdinand, with the exquisite Konstanza Stormont. The chemistry between Yau and Stormont welcomes the warmth of spring in their wedding scene, complete with lively song and dance.

I’m always anxious to see how directors and actors approach Shakespeare’s problematic “savage and deformed Slave,” and Dominique Allen’s Caliban provides the perfect multifaceted gut-punch needed to embody this complex indigenous character.

In theatre, design matters, and CUTC’s design crew have done the hard work of world-building with lights, sound, set, and costumes. Vivian Krishnan’s costumes add intensity and depth to the actors, especially in the colorful tones of the Arial actors and in the physical layers that Caliban carries. Mike O’Brien’s sparse but spectacular set gives the actors room to run but incorporates dazzling set pieces, including the sails in the iconic opening storm. Nick Shaw’s lights, Jodie Werner’s ambient sounds, and Law Welle’s makeup give the audience a robust three-dimensional experience.

Co-directors Latrelle Bright and Misty Martin’s production utilize the theatricality of Parkland College’s Second Stage black box space. The fluidity of bodies in motion creates a permeable space between actors and audience, which is what live theatre does best. Their opening storm scene cracks with sound and fury, enhanced by the grand voices and movement of the boatswains and mariners, played by Jace Jameson, Aaron Clark, and Tony Curtis.

Three male actors seated on the stage talking. From the CUTC's production of The Tempest.

Photo by Andy Wszalek.

Misty Martin, a Champaign-Urbana native, and theatre veteran is excited to step into directing in this, her first production with CUTC. Martin notes, “Latrelle and I tried to dig deeper into the characters, who they are, and what motivates them. I hadn’t read The Tempest before, though I’ve always loved Shakespeare. Latrelle approached me with the opportunity to be part of this project and I’ve found a great appreciation for the play.” Bright, along with co-directing The Tempest for CUTC, is hard at work on Krannert Center for the Performing Arts’ production of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, opening in April.

President of the Twin City Theatre Company’s John Tilford gives the “honest old Counselor” Gonzalo a fresh interpretation with delightful humor and warmth. The other brothers in the story, Alonso, and the scheming Sebastian are brought to life by the talented Aaron Miller and eye-popping Laura Anne Welle. Keep your eyes on the scenes between Welle’s Sebastian and Wickart’s Antonio as their conniving is a joy to watch. Shakespeare loves his drunken comic characters and Lincoln Machula’s hearty Stefano is perfectly matched by the puckish fun of Sasha Zvenigorodsky.

Martin hopes that Champaign-Urbana audiences “walk away with the idea that Shakespeare is for everyone. We want them to laugh, and maybe see a little of themselves in the characters.”

The Tempest is part comedy, part tragedy, part love story, and pure magic. CUTC’s production brings much-needed light to Champaign after two tedious years without much local live theatre. CUTC’s bold cast and crew deliver a passionate take on Shakespeare’s stormy fabulist romance. Thanks be to all the spirits and sprites that make theatre happen.

Champaign Urbana Theatre Company’s The Tempest
March 10-12, 7:00 pm
March 12-13, 2:00 pm
Parkland College, Second Stage Theatre
2400 W Bradley Ave

Top Photo by Andy Wszalek

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