‘The Tempest’: The ART has more magic to do


Nate Dendy, Joby Earle, Tom Nellis and Charlotte Graham in "The Tempest." Photo: Gerikodey/The Smith Center

Nate Dendy, Joby Earle, Tom Nellis and Charlotte Graham in “The Tempest.” Photo: Geri Kodey/The Smith Center

CAMBRIDGE — It turns out that even after the Tony Award-winning revival of “Pippin,” the American Repertory Theatre still had more “Magic To Do.”
And while ART Artistic Director Diane Paulus was in charge of “Pippin,” this time the ART has put it in the very experienced magical hands of Teller, half of the acclaimed duo of Penn & Teller, and Aaron Posner.
Together Teller and Posner have adapted and directed Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and the production now at the Loeb Drama Center through June 15 succeeds on several levels: the humor and the heart of the piece shine through, and it is a visual and aural delight.
One of the factors is the vivid participation of the musical group Rough Magic, a so-called “spirit band,“ who provide a musical narrative and do for “the Tempest” what Pore Ole Shine did for last December’s ART production of “The Heart of Robin Hood.”
This “Tempest” includes songs by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, choreography by Matt Kent and Pilobolus and a stack of others credits that you don’t normally see in a Shakespearian tome: magic design by Johnny Thompson, magic engineering and construction by Thom Rubino, instrument design and wollesonics by Kenny Wollesen, etc.
“The Tempest” rakes place on a remote island, where Tom Nellis reigns over all as Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan. He and his daughter Miranda (Charlotte Graham) have been stranded for 12 years on the island after Prospero’s jealous brother Antonio (Louis Buttelli), aided by Alonso (Christopher Donahue), the King of Naples, deposed him and set him adrift with the then-3-year-old Miranda.
While marooned on the island, he has consumed books and become a powerful sorcerer, allowing him to conjure up a storm that ends up in a shipwreck, luring both Antonio and Alonso to the island, where by magic, sorcery and other skills, Prospero will reveal Antonio’s lowly nature, provide for the redemption of the king, and eventually facilitate the marriage of Miranda to Alonso’s son, Ferdinand (Joby Earle).
Nate Dendy gives heart and spirit to Ariel, the spirit who reluctantly does Prospero’s bidding after being rescued by him, and is at times visible only to him. And check out Ariel’s card tricks!
There is a well-played comic subplot involving the drunken Trinculo (Jonathan M. Kim), the King’s jester,  his friend Stephano (Eric Hissom) the king’s equally besotted steward who has rescued a cask of wine from the shipwreck, and the character of Caliban, the deformed son of the witch Sycorax, a character depicted by having actors Zachary Eisenstat and dancer Manelich Minniefee join together in a remarkable display of physical dexterity and strength.
Caliban believes Trinculo and Stephano have come from the moon and will help him throw off Prospero’s shackles. Hissom takes the character of Stephano to levels Shakespeare never envisioned — audience participation, anyone — but the quest, predictably, doesn’t end well.
The magic tricks include a wonderfully-executed levitation, appearances and disappearances, a man leaning impossibly forward with no visible support, the transformation of objects, all carefully integrated into the text.
The danger, of course, is that the 21st Century production values can overshadow The Bard’s classic prose, but that isn’t the case here. “The Tempest“ is raising a theatrical storm of note at the Loeb Drama Center.
The American Repertory Theater in association with Smith Center for the Performing Arts production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Adapted by Aaron Posner and Teller, Movement by Pilobolus. Magic by Teller., Music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. Set, Daniel Conway. Costumes, Paloma Young. Lights, Christopher Akerlind. Sound, Darron L. West. Music director, Shaina Taub. Magic consultant, Johnny Thompson. Magical prop designer, Thom Rubino. Instrument designer, Kenny Wollesen. Through June 15 at the Loeb Drama Center.americanrepertorytheater.org