You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New York Theater Review: ‘The Tempest’ With Sam Waterston

Sam Waterston, Francesca Carpanini, Chris Perfetti, Louis Cancelmi, Charles Parnell, Frank Harts, Rodney Richardson, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Danny Mastrogiorgio.

“The Tempest” and Central Park were made for each other, so it must have taken a Herculean effort on the part of director Michael Greif to drain Shakespeare’s most mysterious play of all its magic in his current outing for Shakespeare in the Park. Despite some thunderous sound-and-light effects, this plodding production lacks the power of enchantment. And little wonder, since Sam Waterston’s terribly diminished Prospero has been denied all the accouterments of his high office. His magic wand is a skinny stick, his vast library of ancient tomes has been reduced to one old book, and his magician’s cloak looks like a torn bedsheet. 

Despite his worthy aspiration to tackle the formidable role of Shakespeare’s great necromancer, Waterston is doomed to play nice guys. He’s thoroughly likable at the end of the play, as Prospero the benevolent healer who frees his slaves, matches up the young lovers and repairs the broken lives of the lost sailors. But he’s less than believable as Prospero the raging master of the dark arts, who engineers the frightful storm at sea — the coup de theatre of designers Riccardo Hernandez (sets), David Lander (lighting), Acme Sound Partners and Jason Crystal (sound), and Matt Tierney (soundscapes) — that breaks up a mighty ship at sea and tosses the survivors onto the magician’s enchanted isle.

Aside from that opening spectacle, there’s little to tickle our fancy in this downbeat production.

A black metal catwalk and exposed lighting towers lend a cold, hard edge to the fecund island where Prospero fled to raise his daughter Miranda (Francesca Carpanini, fair of face, shrill of voice) after being rousted from his kingdom by his treacherous brother, Antonio (Cotter Smith). On this barren stage, there’s no sign of the great library that Prospero built to ease his exile and no sense of the mystical aura that enfolds the island.

Not even Ariel (Chris Perfetti), the true source of magic, is allowed to toss some fairy dust around. By some ill-conceived notion, this other-worldly spirit (inexplicably trussed up in leather bindings by costumer Emily Rebholz) is rendered as a grim and brooding soul who might be Caliban’s baby brother. The monstrous Caliban himself (“this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine,” as Prospero finally acknowledges) is appropriately fierce and frightening in Louis Cancelmi’s forceful perf. His brutish scenes with those creepy clowns Trinculo and Stephano (played, respectively, by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Danny Mastrogiorgio, both excellent) are as dark as the comedy gets in this play.

But everything about this earthbound production, from the stiff military garb of the royal visitors to the flat cyclorama of a raging sea, is presented in such literal terms that even the lyricism of the language is dashed upon the rocks and left to drown.

New York Theater Review: 'The Tempest' With Sam Waterston

Delacorte Theater; 1800 seats; free. Opened June 16, 2015. Reviewed June 11. Running time: TWO HOURS, 45 MIN.

Production: A presentation by the Public Theater, in cooperation with the City of New York, of a Shakespeare in the Park production of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare.

Creative: Directed by Michael Greif. Sets, Riccardo Hernandez; costumes, Emily Rebholz; lighting, David Lander; sound, Acme Sound Partners & Jason Crystal; soundscapes, Matt Tierney; hair & makeup, J. Jared Janas; music, Michael Friedman; choreography, Denis Jones; production stage manager, Michael McGoff.

Cast: Sam Waterston, Francesca Carpanini, Chris Perfetti, Louis Cancelmi, Charles Parnell, Frank Harts, Rodney Richardson, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Danny Mastrogiorgio.

More Legit

  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge

    Listen: How Phoebe Waller-Bridge Shocked Herself With 'Fleabag'

    Both onstage and onscreen, the title character in “Fleabag” says things that are pretty outrageous — even to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the woman who created her. Listen to this week’s podcast below: More Reviews West End Review: 'Emilia' Film Review: Tim Burton's 'Dumbo' Known to television audiences as the creator of Amazon’s “Fleabag” as well as [...]

  • Emilia review

    West End Review: 'Emilia'

    We know next to nothing of the “Dark Lady of the Sonnets” — nothing beyond what Shakespeare tells us in 26 stanzas of overblown verse. Her eyes were nothing like the sun, of course – “raven black,” so he claims – and her lips were either paler than coral, as in Sonnet 130, or else [...]

  • Guys and Dolls

    'Guys and Dolls' Getting Remade at TriStar (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Guys and Dolls,” the venerable Broadway musical, is set to return to the big screen. TriStar Pictures has purchased remake rights to the original Damon Runyon short stories about gamblers and gangsters that inspired the shows, as well as the rights to the Broadway musical with its book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and [...]

  • Sutton Foster

    Sutton Foster Starring Opposite Hugh Jackman in Broadway's 'The Music Man'

    “The Music Man” has found its Marian, the librarian. Sutton Foster, the two-time Tony Award winner, will star opposite Hugh Jackman in the upcoming revival of “The Music Man.” She will play Marian Paroo, a small-town librarian who is initially immune to Professor Harold Hill’s charms. It’s a role that was previously performed by the [...]

  • 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama'

    What function do superhero stories play in American society? Are they merely escapist distractions for head-in-the-clouds teens, or could those same formats actually serve a practical function, providing useful tools for everyday life? Recognizing these comic book fantasies as by far the dominant form of contemporary mythmaking for a generation of young people, emerging playwright [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content