Saltwater farm setting for ‘The Tempest’ unleashes Shakespeare’s magic

Julia Sears | Opera House Arts
Julia Sears | Opera House Arts
Bari Robinson as Trinculo (left) and Asirael Rivera as Sebastin plot to help Caliban over throw his master, Prospero in Opera House Arts' production of "The Tempest." The play is being performed outside at five locations on the Ames Farm in Stonington.
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There is magic in the air and not all of it is Prospero’s doing.
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There is magic in the air and not all of it is Prospero’s doing.

The dethroned Duke of Milan, with the aid of his sprite, conjures up a storm to wreck his traitorous brother’s ship on the rocky island Prospero now calls home.

But nothing the magician of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” calls up can compare or compete with the place director Peter Richards chose to set the play, produced by Opera House Arts in Stonington.

“The Tempest” is performed in five different locations at the Ames Farm on Indian Point Road overlooking the sea. The audience moves from one spectacular view to another with the cast at one point performing on rocks at low tide.

“The elements of inspiration for this production of ‘The Tempest’ can be found all around, and right before your eyes — sea, granite, grass, wood, sun, sky, flowers, dirt, wind, weather,” Richards wrote in the program.

Three years ago, he directed Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at the farm but just half of that show was outside. The second half was performed inside the barn. Richards made that audience feel like nosy neighbors spying on the family next door.

Julia Sears | Opera House Arts
Julia Sears | Opera House Arts
Kathleen Turco-Lyon as Prospero (background) instructs her sprite Ariel on how she should watch the survivors of the shipwreck Prospero caused in Opera House Arts' production of "The Tempest." The play is performed in five locations outside on the Ames Farm in Stonington.

By having the audience move about the saltwater farm, Richards makes theatergoers feel as if they are part of the flora, fauna, birds and/or spirits that live on the island Prospero claims as his home. Richards is a skilled enough director that he could have moved this talented cast inside the Stonington Opera House and presented a fine production of “The Tempest” but the magic would have been man made rather than natural as it is on the farm.

Richards’ cast must be nimble to perform on the site’s varied terrain and the exposed rocks on the shore line. None is better at that than Thea Brooks as Ariel.

Clad in white, gray and black feathers with her head nearly shaved bare, Brooks resembles the seagulls that can be seen diving for dinner behind her in several scenes. Sometimes the actress perches birdlike on a rock. At other times, her Ariel seems as fairylike as those populating the woods of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Brooks’ portrayal of Ariel is totally original and constantly surprising. Over and over again the actress demands the audience divert its attention from the beauty of the surroundings and pay attention to the sprite. It is a commanding and unforgettable performance.

Ryan Knowles’ Caliban is equally riveting. Prospero’s slave, who claims the island as his own, is a beast unknown to the island’s visitors. Knowles’ portrays Caliban as part human, part fish, part barnacle but all contortionist.

The actor’s ability to “sit” on his hands while his knees are at his ears is amazing. He twists and contorts himself into positions that seem humanly impossible which makes his Caliban more beast than man. It is a fascinating and frightening performance full of heart.

Taylor Karin as Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, and David Keohane as Ferdinand are as sweet but far luckier than The Bard’s doomed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Karin marvelously portrays the girl who has encountered no other human being but her father since she was 3. Her wonder and amazement at encountering the shipwrecked prince is charming and infectious.

Keohane gives Ferdinand a down-to-earth magnetism. The actor’s thin frame make him look a bit like a reed, able to survive a storm stirred up by any sorcerer. Keohane exudes grace and charm as Ferdinand, but it’s the way he focuses his eyes like laser beams on Amanda that melts theatergoers’ hearts.

The comic duo of “The Tempest” are Arisael Rivera as Sebastian and Bari Robinson as Trinculo. Their antics with Caliban are hysterical. How they manage to agilely navigate the rocks along with shore while being full of liquid spirits and stay in character is a feat to be applauded in and of itself.

Kathleen Turco-Lyon plays Prospero. She is not a commanding presence on this landscape. Turco-Lyon seems to fade from the audience’s view especially in scenes with Brooks and Knowles. It is as if the magician yields all his power to them in some kind out-of-character gesture.

She is masculine enough and experienced enough to command a stage, as she did as Irina in “The Seagull,” but at Saturday’s performance Turco-Lynn seemed a bit lost. Even as the play began, Prospero’s lust for revenge seemed lukewarm.

That does not spoil “The Tempest” in any way. Theatergoers sometimes just have to look for Prospero.

Richards, who is serving as the interim director of Opera House Arts, again has worked his magic. Shakespeare lovers should rush down Route 15 to see this unforgettable forging of nature and theater that will take up residence in their souls and never leave.

“The Tempest” is performed at 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Sundays at the Ames Farm, 161 Indian Point Road, Stonington, through July 15. For information, call 367-2788 or visit operahousearts.org.

This production requires considerable walking. Theatergoers should wear comfortable shoes suitable for the slightly hilly terrain and bring a sweater as the breeze can be chilly during the second half. A golf cart is available to transport those who have difficulty traversing the landscape.

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