By Bobby Panza
William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” concluded its six-show run at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on Sunday, September 3. Produced by Public Works, this timeless fantasy drama is thought to be one of the last plays written alone by the bard, with estimates placing its composition between 1610 and 1611. Renée Elisa Goldsberry, a Tony Award winner for Best Featured Actress in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” starred as Prospero. She was joined by a diverse ensemble cast of over 80 members, ranging from children to seasoned thespians hailing from all five boroughs.
Beneath a radiant blue supermoon, I attended a free showing of the play, set on a remote island after a tempestuous storm. Director Laurie Woolery cleverly reused much of the same set from “Hamlet,” which was produced earlier this summer on the same stage. What truly distinguished this production, however, was the adaption of Shakespeare’s script, enhanced with new music and lyrics by Benjamin Velez. The result was a brisk 90-minute spectacle as the sorcerer Prospero harnessed magic and the elements in a revenge-seeking effort to hunt down her brother and the men who had dethroned her as ruler of Milan. Ultimately, they left her and her daughter Miranda (Naomi Pierre) to die at sea, but the two arrived on what was thought to be a deserted island.
One of the most thrilling aspects of this adaptation was the portrayal of Prospero by a woman. Originally written as a male character by Shakespeare, Renée Elise Goldsberry embodied Prospero with such vitality that one might not even have realized the gender change unless already familiar with the story. While gender-bending is relatively common in Shakespearean productions, it is more often seen with characters less gender-specific, such as Ariel, the supernatural shape-shifter played by Jo Lampert. Lampert delivers an out-of-this-world performance as she lures Prospero’s foes to her. During the play’s climax, Lampert’s solo number featured exceptional guitar work, including a blistering short solo by Hidayat Honari. Considering the Prospero-Miranda relationship is so central to the story, it felt profound seeing the dynamic of a mother-daughter relationship instead of a father-daughter one.
Seeing Shakespeare live transports his works to the very place they were meant to be experienced. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed not just read, which can be a challenge for modern audiences due to the archaic language. In a production where forgiveness and reconciliation are paramount, the cast’s cumulative ability to raise the tension and the stakes before a smooth landing was nothing short of mesmerizing. The actors brought to life the subtext of words that can easily be lost in translation, ensuring anyone can comprehend the story, taking you along for a wild ride.
This summer commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the Public Theater’s esteemed Public Works program. The program’s ability to unite prominent actors with community members from all corners of the city demonstrates a keen eye for casting while delivering a product of remarkable quality. Notably, “The Tempest” was Public Works’ inaugural production when it commenced in 2013 at The Delacorte Theater.
The Tempest marked the final production at the Delacorte Theater before it undergoes renovations. Free Shakespeare in the Park will perform across all five boroughs in 2024 before returning to its revamped home in 2025.
After the show, I spoke to comedian/actor Alison Klemp, 36, from Brooklyn who was joyful to attend. “It was so special,” said Klemp. “The Delacorte is an iconic theater with so much history. And Shakespeare in the Park is so important because it makes Shakespeare accessible to so many people. I’m excited for the renovations that will make it even more accessible to all people in the audience, onstage, and behind the scenes.”
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