Bare-bones Shakespeare demands both a clear vision of the entire text and performers who can energize it solely with words and gestures. At least three of the players in this Tempest have done much admirable work over the years. But, lacking a governing vision of what the play is about, they're able to conjure only flat, by-the-book characters with scant relationship to one another.
Consider, for instance, Tim Moyer's Prospero, the onetime duke of Milan exiled to a God-forsaken island. He's clearly a very angry man, but there's little shading or dimension to his anger. As Caliban, the misshapen creature Prospero keeps in service, a bare-chested David Ingram parlays a simian lope and a lot of frenetic activity into the merest semblance of an interpretation. As the venerable counselor Gonzalo, the estimable Michael Toner totters about in a minor role that seems too old for him.
The cast's less familiar actors fare no better. Kirk Wendell Brown invests Ariel, the sprite, with neither spriteliness nor any quality that might serve the character equally well. (He also tends to declaim the play's most musical lines.) The lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda, are one-dimensional; the sozzled servants, Stephano and Trinculo, are ploddingly tiresome; and the king of Naples and his retinue merely fill space.
While two or three of the performers probably wouldn't be up to their roles under any circumstances, several might well be perfectly fine in a production that allowed them to understand their characters and how they fit into an overarching scheme. This is not that production.
It's also lamentably cheesy in its physical aspects - the ersatz thunder; the masque that only the actors can see; the sound effects and music awkwardly integrated into the whole; the puny blue ``banquet'' that, to amend a line from The Odd Couple, is either very new plastic or very old meat.
No sense of magic or wonderment informs this Tempest - and that, in a production with more than its share of failings, may be the biggest of all.
THE TEMPEST Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Eleanor Holdridge; set by Hiroshi Iwasaki; costumes by Jenny Fulton; lighting by Pete Jakubowski; music by John Lionarons. Presented by the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival.
Prospero - Tim Moyer
Miranda - Kim Waldauer
Caliban - David Ingram
Ariel - Kirk Wendell Brown
Ferdinand - Leonard Kelly
Antonio - Ralph Edmonds
Alonso - Mort Paterson
Sebastian - Tom Cleary
Gonzalo - Michael Toner
Stephano - Bruce Robinson
Trinculo - John Zak
Francisco - John Bellomo
Playing at: Holy Communion Lutheran Church community hall, 2111 Sansom St., through Nov. 29. Tickets: $15. Information: 215-569-9700.