Encore Michigan

Pigeon Creek’s Tempest sails through Grand Rapids

Review April 16, 2016 Sue Merrell

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–The Tempest tossed about Grand Rapids’ intimate Dog Story Theater Friday evening with wily spirits and crazed characters rushing in and out through every possible entrance and the wind-swept audience of about 50 left laughing uncontrollably in its wake.

Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s two-weekend run in Grand Rapids is the company’s third presentation of the show, with one-night performances earlier this month in Muskegon and Spring Lake. Director Katherine Mayberry has created a masterful, fast-paced interpretation of Shakespeare’s final play.

No lightning flashes or other pyrotechnics embellished the opening storm and shipwreck, but the whole room was caught up in the gale of actors dispersed on all sides, swaying with the wind while mariners in bright yellow raincoats held fast to the flapping sail.

Cast and audience alike were plunged onto the island where magician Prospero and his daughter Miranda have been living in exile since Prospero’s brother, Antonio, usurped Prospero’s title as Duke of Milan. With his spirit friend Ariel, Prospero has orchestrated the storm to snag a ship carrying Antonio and the King of Naples. Miranda discovers the king’s son, Ferdinand, on the beach and promptly falls in love.

Scott Wright, who has portrayed many a duke and damsel in Pigeon Creek productions, seems perfectly suited to the role of Prospero. With his grey beard, assured saunter of experience, and booming voice he convincingly controls events on the island. Yet there is a twinkle of fondness in Prospero’s eyes for his bubble-headed daughter. Wright’s clear diction and expressive phrasing keep the character’s longer soliloquies at least somewhat interesting. Perhaps his best moment is the poignant final scene when he seems to be The Bard himself pleading for indulgence from the audience.

Scott Lange creates an Ariel that is more manly Genie-in-the-bottle than some playful Puck-ish sprite. His silken harem pants and jeweled velvet vest add to the illusion along with creative body paint and gobs of glitter. Lange is also music director of the production and sings many of Ariel’s hypnotic spells.

Sarah Stark’s wide-eyed Miranda is absolutely adorable, over-reacting to the max and bubbling with enthusiasm. Brad Sytsma’s calmer but adoring Ferdinand makes a great match. The two are especially fun when Ferdinand is lugging logs to prove his love and when they are stretched diagonally across the stage trying desperately to touch fingers.

Kat Hermes portrays island-witch Caliban as a wild-haired, growling monster in a velvet cloak. One of the evening’s funniest scenes is when court jester Trinculo, played by Sean Kelley, seeks refuge under Caliban’s cloak and the butler, Stephano, played by Kaija Von Websky, thinks it’s a four-legged, two headed monster.

Another moment of great staging is the way director Mayberry has imagined Ariel controlling Ferdinand’s “sword,” which is depicted with a short knife in this close space. Excellent timing between the two actors creates the illusion of control ending with Ferdinand unable to pry his weapon off the floor.

Rosalind Srb’s costumes set a playfully contemporary style with preppy blazers and deck shoes for the wealthy yacht set. Flowered hoops and masks transform a trio of characters to create an impressive betrothal play-within-a-play.

The set is basic but more than adequate. The opening ship’s wheel and sail dominate the room, but are quickly broken down into shore wreckage. The platform becomes the multi-purpose backdrop for all the remaining scenes.

Once again Pigeon Creek proves that the best theater requires only a healthy dose of imagination.

Click here for show says, times, details and ticket-buying options.