REVIEW: Upstate Shakes Ends 25th Season with Enchanting ‘Tempest’

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Treachery, sorcery, spirits, grotesque creatures, a pack of wild dogs, goddesses, a maelstrom, and a Mediterranean island located somewhere akin to the Great Garbage Patch (that vast accumulation of the world’s plastic waste floating in the Pacific) inhabit the tempestuous world of The Tempest, The Warehouse Theatre’s Upstate Shakespeare Festival’s fantastical comedy now enchanting park goers through August 4 at Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville.

The conclusion of USF’s historic 25th season and following an illustrious and uber-popular production of Romeo and Juliet in June, The Tempest is a colorful and boisterous Eco-friendly version that may sweep you away in this clever take on one of the Bard’s most enduring works directed by Producing Artistic Director John Fagan. The island has been transformed into a tropical wasteland replete with thriving foliage and flowers (lotus and hibiscus) all made from repurposed plastic bottles, and ironically, from mammoth rolls of those dangerous plastic rings for six-packs.

In addition to the environmental message, The Tempest is about revenge, freedom and love. The island’s ruler Prospera (a triumphant Lynne Junker in her first USF role in four years) sets the action in motion by using her sorcery to create a tempest that destroys a ship, forcing its crew to seek refuge on shore. Aboard this vessel are her malevolent brother Antonio (the stalwart USF actor Simon Crowe) who exiled her and usurped her authority in Milan; Gonzalo (“an honest old counselor portrayed by USF veteran mainstay Richard Beveridge); Alonso, King of Naples (Mark. S. Byrnes); and his handsome son, Ferdinand, played by USF’s leading man of recent, Josh Wilson.

When not using magic against her brother and his posse, Prospera revels in making a love spell connection between Antonio and her innocent (but intuitive) daughter Miranda, played by Sarah Rackley, who returns to USF after hanging her star in a similar fantasy adventure as the only woman in a sea of men in Spartanburg’s Little Theatre’s Peter and the Star Catcher. And Wilson and Rackley take full advantage of the couple’s love-hate-love dynamics, displaying bounds of playful chemistry.

Most of the supernatural tasks are performed by Ariel, the ageless-genderless-formless spirit indentured to Prospera and embodied by a group of six actors in this production: Helen Textor (who controls a blank face mask that represents the abstract entity), Isabella Gardner, John Genova, Adam Jones (the recent Romeo), Miriam Muriithi, and Olivia Woodall.

But another subplot among a trio of drunk servants is the one that you will remember in this production. Brian Reeder in a lavender turban as Alonso’s jester Trinculo singing Billy Ocean’s Caribbean Queen, Ryan Barry stumbling around the stage singing a Bard tune about scurvy, and Maury Reed in green makeup lurching about the hills as the enslaved creature Caliban, can only be topped when they band together kung-fooing down the stairs to Kung Foo Fighting.

Rounding out the cast of The Tempest are Brianna Young, Robby Matlock, Bronson Delgado, Jonathan Davis, Alexandria Green lee, Eliza Pagel, Madi Fiely, Caitlyn Bryant, Lois Hade, Robert Penninger and Sullie Marie Watson.

Erika Phoenix is assistant director, Casandra Scott is Production Manager, Grace Gardner is stage manager, Scenic design is by John Fagan and costume design is by Brook Nelson.

And kudos to the sound design and live percussion gongs played on top of the house!

The Tempest continues Thursdays-Sundays @ 7 p.m. through August 4 at Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville. FREE! Donations are accepted.

And don’t miss another round of readings of Measure fro Measure FREE July 23-24 at 7 p.m. the Hughes Main Library in Greenville.

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