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Patrick Stewart in ‘The Tempest’ in Central Park

July 11, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ There may not be a more generous play than ``The Tempest,″ William Shakespeare’s mystical tale of redemption and reconciliation.

That generosity swirls through director George C. Wolfe’s wondrous production, which opened Tuesday in Central Park. The carefully crafted revival, the first of the summer by the New York Shakespeare Festival, accomplishes something rare in the annals of recent Big Apple offerings of the Bard. It gives the audience spectacle as well as poetry _ and doesn’t shortchange either.

Wolfe is something of a stage magician. His production is full of high theatrics, superbly using music _ there’s a band on stage; puppetry; dance; circus performers, including some amazing stilt walkers, and just plain old low comedy.

And it has been shrewdly cast with a savvy mixture of veteran and new performers.

At the forefront is Patrick Stewart of ``Star Trek″ fame. Stewart, a distinguished artist with England’s Royal Shakespeare Company, is a commanding stage presence. His strong-voiced Prospero is no frail old man, but rather a vigorous, athletic, almost defiant father figure. He strides the stage as though he owns it _ and he does.

The playing area, by the way, in Riccardo Hernandez’s innovative set design, is a simple, sand-covered circle with no scenery. This island appears to float in the middle of the Delacorte Theater. When foliage is needed, actors appear, carrying leafy bits of greenery that evoke an almost supernatural jungle.

On this evocative spot, Wolfe works his considerable talent. The shipwreck, which opens the play, is acted out with a toy ship hoisted in the air by an actor through billowing ribbons of blue cloth.

The other cast members complement Stewart’s robust performance. Carrie Preston’s wonderful Miranda is a vibrant creature, a naive tomboy who falls in love with the shipwrecked Ferdinand (Kamar de los Reyes). Their scenes of budding romance are funny and touching at the same time.

Wolfe has enlisted the services of the great clown Bill Irwin to play Trinculo. Irwin’s graceful pratfalls are as hilarious as ever, but he also negotiates the verse with ease. Pairing Irwin with John Pankow, as the drunken butler Stephano, was an inspired bit of casting. Together, they make the play’s comic scenes blissfully funny.

Wolfe has cast the exotic Aunjanue Ellis as Ariel. She’s a striking, sensuous presence and a fine singer to boot. The Caliban of Teagle F. Bougere is fierce without being threatening. The character achieves a poignancy, too, in Bougere’s portrait of Prospero’s embittered servant.

Even the villains make noticeable impressions, particularly Liev Schreiber as the scheming Sebastian. And there are yeoman, on-the-mark performances by such Public Theater regulars as Larry Bryggman as the King of Naples and Macintyre Dixon as Gonzalo, Prospero’s loyal friend.

``The Tempest″ could be Shakespeare’s most humane work. There is an all-embracing quality to its ending in which the young lovers are blessed, the comics get a gentle comeuppance and even the villains are forgiven.

``Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not,″ cautions Caliban to several of the island’s interlopers. Truer words could not be spoken about Wolfe’s memorable, magical effort.

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