While there's no obvious single inspiration for "The Tempest," many scholars consider the 1609 shipwreck of the Virginia Company's Sea Venture on the island of Bermuda as a primary source for William Shakespeare.
En route to Jamestown, the Sea Venture ran aground in a storm, stranding Capt. Christopher Newport, John Rolfe and Virginia's new governor for nearly a year before they could complete the journey in two improvised vessels. Similarly, "The Tempest" begins with a shipwreck and concludes with a happy ending, exploring themes of love and betrayal, redemption and forgiveness along the way.
Staged by Quill Theatre at Agecroft Hall as its first offering of this summer's Richmond Shakespeare Festival, this "Tempest" is light fare, more focused on the script's comedic and romantic elements than broader statements on power and who wields it.
Prospero (John Cauthen) was once the Duke of Milan, but his dukedom was usurped by his brother Antonio (Christopher Dunn), and he and his daughter Miranda (Madison Munson) were cast off in a sinking vessel. In the 12 years that he's been stranded on a remote island, Prospero has learned magic and uses that power to wreck the ship of Antonio and his entourage on the island in a storm.
Directed by Quill's James Ricks, this "Tempest" is adequately staged, but lacks some of its usual charisma. The most memorable aspect of this production is Adam Turck's Ariel, a spirit in service to Prospero. Covered in blue makeup and wearing colored contacts, Turck is a mechanical, twitching Ariel, bringing to mind Max Headroom or a malfunctioning Data from "Star Trek." Cauthen's Prospero is serviceable but doesn't bring the dramatic intensity you might hope for. Because his anger isn't palpable at the show's beginning, it undercuts Prospero's ultimate message of forgiveness for his usurpers.
Playing the two drunks of Antonio's entourage, Jeff Clevenger and Adam Valentine do admirable work as the comedic duo Trinculo and Stephano. Dean Hall, as Prince Ferdinand, and Munson are sweet as the young lovers, and Derek Kannemeyer is amusing as the wordy but well-meaning Gonzalo.
As Caliban, the half-monster son of a witch enslaved after attempting to rape Miranda, Walter Riddle gives a sympathetic interpretation of the role, even if his Jamaican accent sometimes makes him unintelligible. The casting of a black Caliban could potentially be tricky, but Ricks navigates this well. In perhaps the most intriguing choice of the show, Prospero gives Caliban his sorcerer's cloak near the show's conclusion. It's a message of redemption and the transition of power that could be explored further.
The Richmond Shakespeare Festival's "The Tempest" plays through June 30 at Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road. For information, call 340-0115 or visit quilltheatre.org.