Alvin Epstein stars in the Actors Shakespeare Project's too-often pedestrian production of the Bard's magical play.
Director Patrick Swanson's concept calls for Prospero to be got up like a Victorian illusionist, and Ariel (Marianna Bassham) as his assistant. Stage veteran Alvin Epstein stars as Prospero, and the role doesn't suit him as well as King Lear, his last ASP outing. However, Epstein gives the old sorcerer's words a fitting intensity. Physically, though, he has too little to do.
In Ariel's case, the top-hatted, short-skirted costume devised by Seth Bodie comes closer to that of a circus ringmistress than magician's assistant, with all the attendant B&D overtones. The distinction is moot in any case, because Bassham's approach is at odds with either persona: the plummy, headmistressy tone that she employs throughout undermines any illusion of spriteliness.
Meanwhile, Mara Sidmore, as Miranda, is from another world entirely: her "bee-yooteous" take on mankind smacks of the mall (with a touch of Teri Garr). You never get the sense that she was raised in utter isolation or had her world view shaped by an embittered recluse. Miranda's innocence should seem a miracle of nature and not so transparent an exercise in "gee whiz" cutesiness.
Fortunately, the rest of the cast fares better. Jason Bowen is noble, warm, and believable as the washashore prince love-stricken at first glance. Robert Walsh is absolutely captivating as the blustery drunk wine steward Stephano, a role which in other hands might seem secondary or trite, and he gets good counterpoint from John Kuntz as the jester Trinculo. His four-legged congress with Caliban (company founder Ben Evett) "under the gaberdine" resembles an unusually awkward Mummenschanz metamorphosis, and like Stephano, we're agog -- when not convulsed with laughter.