If director Patrick Mulcahy's handling of the opening scene makes it clear that this is Prospero's isle and he is sole engineer of the events to follow, Michael Tolaydo reinforces the impression by presenting a Prospero who is clearly capable of the commanding role assigned to him. Tolaydo has an air of easy authority, enhanced by the contemporary touch of a shaved head, that emerges not only from his naturally strong stage presence, but also from his understanding of, and the clarity he brings to, the spoken Shakesperean line.
Prospero came unwillingly to his island 15 years earlier, after he was deposed as Duke of Milan by his brother Antonio and set adrift in a boat with his daughter Miranda. The shipwreck lands the conspirators and others on the island, and the play details Prospero's designs for both vengeance and forgiveness, as well as finding a mate for Miranda.
To carry out his plans, he uses his magic to control the actions and thoughts of others. His agent in manipulation is the sprite Ariel, and Mulcahy's deft manipulation of Marc O'Donnell's efficient Ariel, who seems to materialize out of nowhere from the back of the stage or ascend with dramatic flair into the midst of a scene, is one of the pleasures of the production. The director also employs special effects enough to maintain the air of otherworldly wonder without making the production seem gimmicky.
This visually interesting, activity-filled production is a Tempest lite, a rendering that tends to slight the darker aspects of the play. The bad guys among the castaways don't come across as really evil - none of the noblemen among the shipwrecked group makes much of an impression of any kind on the audience. And Caliban, the play's personification of darkness, isn't the monstrously malign presence he might be.
But if Richard B. Watson's Caliban doesn't embody the evil intent Shakespeare ascribes to the character, his more likable portrayal plays nicely with Anthony Lawton's drunken Stephano and Dennis Razze's dim-witted jester Trinculo as comic relief. These sequences, which can be tedious to bear if not done well, are, in the hands of this competent trio, colorfully humorous.
If the darkness doesn't glower, the play's goodness truly shines in Gina Lamparella's portrayal of Miranda. With a winning naturalness, she conveys the character's loving, trusting nature and sense of naive wonder. Although Robert J. Hamilton's Sebastian has a pencil- thin beard and mustache that give him an unfortunately sinister mien in contradiction with the character's good nature, he and Lamparella connect well enough as smitten lovers.
The slighting of the dark side of human nature and Lamparella's vivid personification of the good tends to put the production more in sympathy with the innocent Miranda's comment at play's end when, contemplating the forgiven, repentant erstwhile evildoers, she famously remarks: "Oh brave new world, that hath such people in't!," than with Prospero's somewhat cynical rejoinder: "'Tis new to thee."
THE TEMPEST Written by William Shakespeare, directed by Patrick Mulcahy, settings by Bob Phillips, costumes by Janus Stefanowicz, lighting by Robert A. Mond, music by Dennis Razze. Presented by the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.
Michael Tolaydo, Marc O'Donnell, Gina Lamparella, Robert J. Hamilton, Richard B. Watson, Bradley Thoennes, Eric Hissom, Robert Krakovski, Russell Lieb, Anthony Lawton, Dennis Razze, Anthony Stellato, Matt Pfeiffer, Kristopher Yoder, Shaun Brian Hayes, Christopher Gross, Christopher M. Lanzetta, Kristin J. Wolanin, Jaeme Griffin, Sarah Lynn Vetter, Magaret Litschi, Nathaniel Myers, Jessica Perich.
Playing at: Allentown College, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, Center Valley, Pa., through July 11. Tickets are $19-$30. Information: 610-282-3192.