Director Geoff Elliott, a superb cast and an outstanding production team create true theatrical magic in their new presentation of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” It’s easy for directors to mishandle this tricky play — to upset the balance of serious drama and broad comedy — but Elliott gets every note right. His deft staging, helped immeasurably by Jameson Jones’ graceful choreography, highlights the ethereal nature of the story and creates a vivid sense of place. A Noise Within has been reliably excellent for a long time, but this show is a galvanizing example of what innovative and vital theater it’s capable of.
Once the duke of Milan, Prospero (Robertson Dean) was betrayed and ended up on a mostly deserted island with his young child Miranda (Dorothea Harahan). Many years later, Prospero has become a powerful sorcerer, and he creates a great storm at sea to shipwreck both his enemies and a suitor for his daughter. Although this is partly a tale of supernatural vengeance, Elliott knows it is really about colossal forgiveness — a blessing seemingly offered even to the treacherous if pitiful Caliban (Stephen Weingartner) in a moving conclusion original to this production that the Bard himself might have applauded.
Dean delivers an impressive Prospero, his humanity showing through an imperious façade. Harahan and Jason Chanos (as the prince Ferdinand) play their romance completely straight, and it’s the more charming for it. Weingartner brings a lithe physicality to Caliban, and makes a terrific comic trio with Bo Foxworth (Trinculo) and Ray Porter (Stephano), who are hilarious in their drunken deconstructions of how a royal court should conduct itself. Michelle Duffy, however, is astonishing as Prospero’s fairy servant Ariel, in a perf so striking and fluid that it seems more an invocation of a fantasy creature.
Darcy Scanlin’s lovely set of mountain peaks poking through a blanket of clouds creates a suitably airy ambience, and Peter Gottlieb’s dappled lighting evokes the trees and natural locations of the island. Laura Harper’s masks add an appropriately enigmatic mien to the spirits, and Laura Karpman’s delicate music combines echoing voices, percussion, and a vaguely Asian flavor into a rich mélange that brings the wonder of the play to life.