The Tempest, written around 1610, is presumed to be Shakespeare's final play — and perhaps a metaphor for a deteriorating monarchy. The drama, presented by New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, revolves around a group of men who cause considerable misery to others in pursuit of their political ambitions. In the end, they are forgiven through the benevolence of Prospero (Danny Bowen), who suffered the most.
As the play opens, a ship returning from Tunis, where the King of Naples attended his daughter's wedding, is caught in a violent storm and dashed against the shore of an island in the Mediterranean. The island is ruled by Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, who sought refuge there 12 years earlier with his young daughter Miranda (Payton Smith). Prospero's brother Antonio (Casey Groves) usurped his title and exiled him, presumably to his death. Gonzalo (James Bartelle) helped them escape in a small boat, carrying little besides magic books. Prospero discovered the island haven was inhabited by spirits and Caliban (Burton Tedesco), son of the witch Sycorax and the devil, whom he enslaved.
With his command of magic, Prospero created the storm to bring his enemies to his shores and they survive unharmed. Antonio and Alonso (John Ray Proctor), King of Naples, who conspired to oust Prospero, were on the ship. Antonio now convinces Sebastian (Leicester Landon) to kill Alonso and seize the throne for himself. Meanwhile, Caliban meets the king's jester, Trinculo (Graham Burk), and butler, Stephano (Brendan Bowen), and devises a plot to murder Prospero so Caliban can take Miranda and rule the island.
Alonso's son Ferdinand (Reid Williams) is separated from the others in the shipwreck and is led by a sprite, Ariel (Celeste Cahn), to Miranda, with whom he is immediately smitten. Prospero uses his magic to bestow qualities of tolerance and forgiveness to the shipwrecked visitors.
The language of The Tempest is beautiful, as are its sentiments. The innocent infatuation between Miranda and Ferdinand represents virtuous behavior and rejection of rancor. The chemistry between these two actors is infectious, and Smith sparkles with youthful excitement.
Caliban, a vile and unsightly creature, bounds around the stage, snarling and cursing Prospero. He is an angry savage, perhaps symbolic of colonialism's victims. (The year before the play was written, Virginia became a British colony, and the ship Sea Venture wrecked off the Bermuda coast in 1609.)
In the beginning, Caliban showed Prospero how to survive on the island, and was later subjugated. Caliban fumes, "This island's mine by Sycorax my mother / Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam's first / Thou strok'st me and made much of me; wouldst give me / Water with berries in't; and teach me / ... and then I loved thee / And showed thee all the qualities o' the' isle."
Beautiful, regal costumes designed by Jenn Jacobs and mysterious lighting by Martin Sachs lend to the story's supernatural quality. The message of the play is that forgiveness, not vengeance, is truly noble.