"The Tempest" blows into the Broadhurst Theater a more streamlined endeavor than was on display at Central Park's outdoor Delacorte Theater this past summer. True, some of the carnival ambience has gone the way of June bugs and 100-degree heat, but it has left a focus on performance and character that more than compensates.
“The Tempest” blows into the Broadhurst Theater a more streamlined endeavor than was on display at Central Park’s outdoor Delacorte Theater this past summer. True, some of the carnival ambience has gone the way of June bugs and 100-degree heat, but it has left a focus on performance and character that more than compensates.That’s not to say the elements of spectacle in George C. Wolfe’s production have been axed, only distilled to fit the contained space of an indoor theater. Barbara Pollitt’s wonderful puppets remain, along with the beautifully bedecked goddesses on stilts,shadow plays and other visual treats that surrounded Patrick Stewart’s star turn in the park. The reason for the transfer, of course, is Stewart himself, that unusual combination of a true Shakespearean actor and popular television star (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”). He managed to fill seats at the Delacorte despite a stifling midsummer heatwave, and he’ll no doubt do the same at the more comfortable Broadhurst. Audiences drawn by Stewart won’t be disappointed — his baritone reading as Prospero is as impressive as ever, and the performance seems more nuanced than before. Most likely the nuances simply are more evident away from the outdoor amphitheater: Prospero’s compassion and fatherly devotion now are as discernible as his arrogance and authority. Other holdover performances benefit from the move as well, particularly Carrie Preston’s Miranda, a jittery, comic performance with a charm more evident in the closer confines of the Broadhurst. She also benefits from the sweet-natured performance of Paul Whitthorne, new to the role of Miranda’s love interest, Ferdinand: Their scenes together have a heart that elsewhere gets lost amid the spectacle. Unfortunately, the move hasn’t done much to better Aunjanue Ellis’ Ariel or Teagle F. Bougere’s Caliban, performances that remain problematic in conception and, to a lesser degree, execution. And audiences will be split over the campy, over-the-top performances of Mario Cantone as Stephano and Ross Lehman as Trinculo. Where John Pankow and Bill Irwin played these clownish roles in the style of commedia dell’arte, Cantone and Lehman seem to be shooting for the style of Rip Taylor. Their routines are shrill as often as they’re funny. Flaws aside, Wolfe’s sense of theater is everywhere, from the percussive, high-decibel score to the Ariel-as-dragon scene that bears more than a passing resemblance to one of Tony Kushner’s angels in America. With his indisputable flair, Wolfe turns “The Tempest” into extremely accessible Shakespeare, and Broadway audiences are likely to respond.