The main difficulty is that the production lacks a coherent vision. For example, contemporary stagings of The Tempest often emphasize the colonial themes within the text, particularly with the casting of the island's inhabitants. But while this production features non-white actors Nyambi Nyambi as Caliban, Angel Desai as Ariel, and Nana Mensah and Bhavesh Patel as spirits, any attempt at a racial critique of Prospero's treatment of his subjects is negated by the casting of African-American actor Michael Potts as Alonso, King of Naples and father to Ferdinand (portrayed by the Caucasian Stark Sands). This move makes it seem like just another generic example of color-blind casting, or if there was a point being made, it's rendered unintelligible.
Jian Jung's set design is also utilized inconsistently. A large square of sand serves as the primary playing area in the first act, emphasizing the fact that the characters are located on a tiny island. But during intermission, the sand is literally swept away by the stagehands, even though the setting of the play doesn't shift. The reason for this labor-intensive changeover remains puzzlingly unclear.
In addition, the various strands of the multifaceted storyline rarely come alive. There's little urgency evidenced in Antonio (Karl Kenzler) and Sebastian's (Craig Baldwin) plot to murder Alonso and Gonzalo (Yusef Bulos). The comic antics of Trinculo (Tony Torn) and Stefano (Steven Rattazzi) are initially amusing, but feel a little too forced. Desai's Ariel comes across as too submissive and Nyambi's Caliban as not rebellious enough to give their characters the edge they need.
The one bright spot in the production is the love story between Prospero's daughter Miranda (Elisabeth Waterston) and Ferdinand. After a stiffly delivered opening monologue, Waterston soon relaxes into a pitch-perfect portrait of youthful innocence and naivete, which is nicely matched by Sands' fresh-faced portrayal of earnest devotion.
Perhaps the show would have a greater sense of cohesion if Patinkin were a stronger presence. After all, Prospero is at the center of the action, manipulating all of the characters and determining their fates. But Patinkin provides little in the way of letting the audience understand Prospero's hot-tempered rage, and how it gives way to sacrifice and forgiveness. Fans of the actor's musical theater work will get a treat in the second act, as he joins with the island's spirits in a song of blessing to the union of Miranda and Ferdinand. Unfortunately, that's not enough to make the production, as a whole, sing.
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