TSC Takes ‘The Tempest’ Outdoors

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

William Shakespeare bids a fond farewell to the stage in Tennessee Shakespeare Co.’s next production, “The Tempest.”

Tennessee Shakespeare Co.’s production of “The Tempest,” directed by Dan McCleary, will play outdoors at Shelby Farms Park, April 11-22, with (from left) Quinton Guyton (Caliban), Wolfe Coleman (Trinculo) and Shawn Knight (Stephano). (Photo: courtesy of Tennessee Shakespeare Co.)

The show, running April 11-22 at Shelby Farms Park’s Wooden O Amphitheatre, is believed to be Shakespeare’s last full-length play and the culmination of a well-versed career.

“It’s often referred to as Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage and there’s a lot to commend that notion,” said Dan McCleary, artistic director of TSC and director of the production. “You can see a lot of his previous plays in this one and a lot of his previous characters, but they don’t end up dead or in a jealous or muted rage.”

McCleary has produced the show a number of times, but this is his first opportunity to direct it. He said he’ll use what he learned in other productions to pull it off.

“The Tempest,” like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and other Shakespearian comedies, takes the central characters out of the halls, castles, and courts where they live and tosses them into a chaotic environment like a forest where magic and mystery can take place.

Ironically, the chaos helps them find themselves in the end.

McCleary said “The Tempest” is a precursor to sci-fi and fantasy stories like “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of Rings” in that it finds an exciting and magical vehicle in which characters find their humanity.

It’s also similar in its array of fantastical characters including a sorcerer, a spirit and a monster.

In the play, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, and his young daughter Miranda have been living on an uncharted island for 12 years while his usurping brother Antonio ruled in his place.

While on the island, Prospero learns magic and earns the reluctant servitude of a spirit, Ariel, and Caliban, the monstrous son of a witch.

“Prospero calls him this ‘thing of darkness,’ which no one understands,” McCleary said. “He’s the son of an Algerian witch and a demigod from South America. He gets imprisoned in a rock, but he has some of the most beautiful lines. It’s heart-wrenching.”

Prospero learns that his brother and those who assisted him in the coup are sailing near the island and calls up a storm to shipwreck them.

He then uses magic to divide the survivors and weaves an intricate set of plots to wreak his revenge.

In the end, though, Prospero seeks freedom in forgiveness.

“If we take Prospero’s text at face value, especially the epilogue, then Shakespeare is a man who is on a daily basis getting weaker,” McCleary said.

“His craft isn’t, but his body is. He says that his days are numbered. Shakespeare lived only another five years after he wrote this.”

The epilogue, spoken by Prospero, becomes Shakespeare’s final appeal for “freedom” through the applause of the audience.

In the 12-member cast are Johnny Lee Davenport as Prospero, Caley Milliken as Ariel and Wolfe Coleman as Trinculo.

“The Tempest” is only the second production to be staged by TSC in the newly renovated amphitheatre at Shelby Farms Park, where “Macbeth” was staged in the fall.

“I like the long vistas and wide angles,” McCleary said. “For me the contained wildness of the space is a great theatrical virtue for playing Shakespeare.”

And because no one dies in the play, the show is especially kid-friendly. McCleary said he thinks it is the best Shakespearian play for children to read first.

To that end, on Thursday nights, up to four children, ages 17 and under, will be admitted free to the performance with one paying adult.

Immediately following the close of the show, the entire production will move to Washington state and perform at Shakespeare Walla Walla, which co-produced it.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.tnshakespeare.org.