By: Joseph Szalinski
After being usurped by his brother Antonio, Prospero, former Duke of Milan, sailed away with his daughter, Miranda, and wound up at Preston Park in Butler, PA, in Hobnob Theatre Company’s Production of William Shakespeare’s Gilligan’s Island, err…I mean, The Tempest, directed by Ken Smith. This is Hobnob’s second time staging the blustery comedy, having done a production of it a decade ago in 2013.
The show opens with a rousing musical number featuring the entire cast, backed by the wonderful group of musicians who provide brilliant accompaniment throughout the play. A frightful shipwreck follows before Prospero (Stefan L.) gets the audience up to speed with some mesmerizing exposition, eventually setting the stage for the bulk of the story.
Boasting a fantastic cast where many of the actors play multiple roles, this show is rife with incredible performances. The biggest takeaway is how comfortable everyone is with the dialogue. Not only are they not intimidated by any of it, but they imbue it with verve and personality. While some may consider comedies to be lesser than more dramatic works, they are more challenging in that not only does a play have to be expertly realized, but the comedy and humor as well. This cast effortlessly helps show how truly funny this show is.
Stefan L.’s portrayal of Prospero is captivating from his first appearance until the end of the show. Although he carries a big stick, he does not speak softly. Stefan projects well, and his powerful voice is tinged with gentleness and understanding that allows him to truly embody the wizened trickster.
Deanna Sparrow gives a spirited performance as Ariel. Her body language and movement help make her portrayal stand out. She is so light and carefree; it wouldn’t be surprising if she somehow took flight in real life.
Miranda (Jackie Mishol) is phenomenal in her own right and also in her relation to others, whether that be to her father, Prospero, or to her love interest, Ferdinand (Justin Macurdy). The latter’s chemistry is sweet and fun and really encapsulates the essence of the play.
Casey Bowser and Justin Anderson are a great duo as Stephano and Trinculo, respectively. Every scene they pop up in is an absolute delight. The moment when Stephano runs into Caliban (Alison Carey) and Trinculo when he mistakes them for some foul, four-legged beast is the funniest moment of the play, and some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen staged.
Countering the comedic and mostly harmless pair, are their conniving shipmates Antonio (Steve Kalina) and Sebastienne (Elizabeth Smith). Their villainy spices up the plot and illustrates the evil even those closest to us are capable of.
As mentioned above, the musicians (Shaun Donovan, Liz Flanders, Alison Carey, and Holly Furman) do a terrific job of scoring the scenes and a handful of songs. They even add soundscapes and sound effects that elevate the show’s moods and humor.
For being outside, where there are unpredictable variables, this production still manages to pull off some technical wizardry. The greatest example of this is when Alonso and company encounter Ariel in the form of a Harpy. Her performance is complemented by a cloud of billowing smoke, making her guise all the more menacing.
What this show perfectly demonstrates is the power of live entertainment and art. There are only a handful of set pieces and props, costuming is fairly static for most characters, and the only lighting comes from the sun if it doesn’t get covered by clouds, yet this talented cast and crew is able to conjure a production so enthralling that one will swear what they do is magic. It’s no question that they are all united by their love for theatre, particularly their love of The Bard.
The Tempest continues its run July 30th at Preston Park at 6:30 PM and August 4-6 at 6:30 PM, with a change in location to the James A. Ayers Sr. Amphitheater in Zelienople. For more information, click here.