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NY Theater Reviews

DULL WIZARDRY

By SANDY MACDONALD

A delicate Ariel salvages a night of skimpy stage magic.

Enchantment is scant in the Public Theater’s first outdoor offering of the summer. Director Michael Grief has chosen a neo-industrial set (basic scaffolding by Riccardo Hernandez) and costumes in ombré black-and-white (Emily Rebholz), with the result that the text – and the acting thereof – is called upon to provide most of the excitement. 

That it does not, especially in the choppy, hesitant cadences employed by Sam Waterston as a petulant Prospero. It’s very hard to convey wizardry and majesty when stumbling over even familiar passages such as, “Our revels now are ended.”

Alas, they do drag on. Francesca Carpanini, plucked from Juilliard presumably for her youth (Miranda, Prospero’s wild-child daughter, is meant to be 15), has yet to cast off the neophyte’s tendency to singsong Shakespeare’s iambs. Her wide-eyed observations grate from the get-go. 

Nor do many others in the cast manage to capture the music. The marooned nobles are a dull lot – with the exception of Danny Mastrogiorgio, who injects much-needed vigor as the tipsy, scheming butler Stephano. As Trinculo, Stephano’s partner in cups, Jesse Tyler Ferguson rarely ventures beyond shtick. And as Prospero’s presumably grotesque slave Caliban, Louis Cancelmi comes across more chimplike than monstrous. 

The one standout in the cast is Chris Perfetti as Ariel. “Oh, the usual fey interpretation,” one might think at first, but no. His is indeed a singular creature, with velvety, pensive voice, and a posture suggestive of a flitting Nosferatu. I’d have gladly kept this Ariel in bondage for several more acts.