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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Off the Wall's Redemptive 'Tempest'

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Off the Wall Theatre has conjured up a perfect storm of a production with its season finale, Shakespeare's The Tempest. The bard's classic tale of revenge and redemption marks a high point for director Dale Gutzman's company, due in large part to the overall solid cast and Gutzman's own center-stage performance as the exiled duke turned vengeful sorcerer, Prospero. Add in the sumptuous costumes set against a bare stage and this Tempest is in full regalia—and rage.

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here,” yells a sailor prophetically as Prospero's magician-made storm crashes the ship near his island to complete a long-planned journey of revenge. On board is the brother, Antonio, who usurped Prospero's dukedom 12 years earlier, along with Antonio's henchmen and a few of Prospero's loyal friends.

Despite the looming cloud of malevolence bolstered by the half-man, half-beast creature Caliban and the magic sprite Ariel, we see innocence poke through the vengeful dark clouds through the eyes of Miranda, Prospero's beloved daughter.

Shakespeare's tale of vengeance and redemption through forgiveness completes its journey as we watch Gutzman's Prospero struggle with his inner demons between hell-bent fury and the virtues of mercy and absolution. Gutzman walks a fine line in the transformation, and it is fascinating to watch it unfold step by step. There are a number of additionally fine performances: Marilyn White as the island sprite Ariel; Jeremy C. Welter as the foppish Trinculo; Robert Hirschi's drunken, bawdy Stephano; and Tairre Christopherson as the scheming Sebastian, among others.

But it is Karl Miller's portrayal of the monstrous Caliban that fully captures the true essence of a complex character, from enslaved, pitiable creature to “this thing of darkness.”

And in the calm following the storm of this Tempest, it is virtue, rather than vengeance, that redeems the human soul from the inner beasts writhing within us all. The Tempest runs through April 7 at Off the Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St. For more information, call 414-327-3552 or visit www.offthewalltheatre.com.