The Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park season at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park gets off to a disappointing start with an ineffective, drawn-out, unusually cheap-looking production of the Bards romantic drama The Tempest, led by Sam Waterston as Prospero.
If The Tempest is not technically Shakespeares last play, it is certainly his last great play. It concerns Prospero, a former duke who is presently stranded on a remote island with his virginal daughter. He uses his magic to get revenge on the nobles who forced him to leave his home, shipwrecking their boat during a violent storm and trapping them on his island.
As directed by Michael Greif (Rent, Next to Normal), the set consists merely of scaffolds on which images of the ocean have been posted. Occasionally, Prospero and the spirit Ariel stand at the top, as if overseeing their acts of magic. A percussionist unnecessarily adds music as the actors speak, slowing down the play.
The acting ranges from decent to overblown and puzzling. Waterston, who has a storied history with the Public Theater, portrays Prospero like an angry, frenzied lunatic. It’s as if he accidentally stepped out of the storm scene of King Lear.
Juilliard student Francesca Carpanini makes for a graceful Miranda. Jesse Tyler Ferguson (“Modern Family”) is also fine as a drunken servant who gets involved in a plot to overthrow Prospero. But isn’t it time to give him a more challenging role?
This actually isnt the only production of The Tempest being staged for free in a park. Classical Theatre of Harlem is doing the play next month in Marcus Garvey Park with Ron Cephas Jones as Prospero. Perhaps they’ll have better luck with it.
If you go: The Tempest runs through July 5 at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. Get free tickets at publictheater.org.