There is hardly a finer counterpoint to a soft summer night than the words of Shakespeare (or whoever the hell wrote those plays) -- and The Tempest, now being performed free and outdoors, is a wonderful collection of such language treasures. While some of us might observe that "our lives ain't diddly-squat, and then we croak," Will said it with a bit more style: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." That glorious language, plus a couple of outstanding performances, are reason enough to ditch TV's reruns and fetch thy buns over to the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival.
A mystical and somewhat convoluted tale of magical powers, revenge, and young love, The Tempest is no cakewalk to produce, especially because the play begins with a furious storm that beaches a ship filled with Italian noblemen. While this production doesn't exactly strain a ligament in stretching to invent some theatrical effects (the storm is pretty much indicated by actors holding onto large stepladders and looking uneasy), everyone soon hits dry land, and the story lines start entangling.
This godforsaken island is already inhabited by Prospero, the lawful Duke of Milan, and his 15-year-old daughter Miranda, who were banished by Prospero's brother in a governmental grab that would make Karl Rove proud. But Prospero has spent his time wisely, learning to become a master of magic; in fact, he made that storm happen so that all his enemies would be beached and within his control. From there, the usual Shakespearean twists and turns find Miranda falling in love with the King of Naples' son, some drunken louts scheming an abysmally botched assassination, plus invaluable plot assistance from a deformed monster and an airy spirit.
Fortunately the bulk of the lines in this play are given to Prospero, who is played by Robert Hawkes, an actor who possesses a lustrous voice that can coax a smile or tear out of many a phrase. When he says, near the end of the piece, that he will return to Naples, "where every third thought shall be my grave," there is a visceral tug of shared mortality. Prospero has a splendid compatriot in Ariel, the sprite who carries out many of his orders: Kim Weston almost looks like she's suspended from wires as she leaps to his commands while pouting about her boss's procrastination in setting her free. Other substantial acting jobs are turned in by Brian Richeson as Miranda's heartthrob Ferdinand, Derek R. Koger as the souse Stephano, and Doug Rossi as Caliban.
Director Ron Newell, while shaping some scenes with precision, has put too much responsibility on the audience to fill in the aura of this play. The monster Caliban -- supposedly a combination of a human, a fish, and a tortoise -- should look more ghastly than a regular guy wearing shredded clothes. And Newell has allowed some players to mail it in. Still, this Tempest has enough kick to spice up a sultry evening.