The Public Theater presents an awe-inspiring revival of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Direction by Michael Greif, the show ingenuously uses open space, colorful backdrops, sound effects, music, troupes of fairies and commanding actors to create a seamless picture of a remote island home of a vengeful father and stranded noblemen.
Sam Waterston is the embittered Prospero, the real Duke of Milan, abandoned by his country and betrayed by his brother. Left to survive on an island, over many years he learns magic to stir up a storm to force his countrymen to land on his new home. A white bearded Waterston looks more grandfatherly than evil sorcerer, but he does exhort with anger and mean intent at the men through the works of his obedient enslaved “spirit,” Ariel, consummately portrayed here by Chris Perfetti.
Perfetti’s Ariel is one of the best performances of the evening. Among the most inspiring magical moments are when Ariel puts the corps of soldiers and noblemen to sleep and when Prospero produces a beautiful pageant for his daughter, Miranda, who marries young Ferdinand. Rodney Richardson plays Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples, who delivers an earnest and pliable young man willing to do whatever it takes (and it takes a lot!) to win over her father after he falls in love with Miranda. Francesca Carpanini is perfectly cast as the ingenue and loyal daughter.
For comic effect, a pleasant surprise was TV’s “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson as a jester coupled with his drinking partner, Stephano, played very humorously by Danny Mastrogiorgio. These two made for a fun time full of laughs for all when they took to the stage.
Another familiar face from TV and the movies is veteran actor Cotter Smith (“Madam Secretary” and “The Good Wife”), who portrays the duplicitous and dishonest brother Antonio. At one point, he tries to convince Sebastian (Frank Harts), the king’s brother, to kill the sleeping king and take over the throne. Harts clearly reveals a discontent and angry brother but declines Antonio’s plan when the king (Charles Parnell) suddenly awakes before he deals a fatal blow.
Unfortunately, the only sour note is a disappointing casting decision in Louis Cancelmi as Caliban. His realization of Caliban seems more like a caricature and fails to evoke the empathy owed to this slave and indigenous inhabitant of the island.
Many kudos to scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez and to David Lander for lighting. Michael Friedman wrote evocative original music. Sound design credits go to Acme Sound Partners and Jason Crystal. Denis Jones provided graceful and balletic choreography for the spirits. Arthur Solar played percussion. Most notably among the spirits were actors Olga Karmansky, Tamika Sonia Lawrence and Laura Shoop.
Shakespeare in the Park’s “The Tempest” is free in Central Park (entrance at 81st and Central Park West) through July 5.