TempestHart House’s Tempest, which runs until November 22, was certainly big on ambition. While there were moments of brilliance here, they often came too few and far between.

The ensemble of nymphs, expertly choreographed by Ashleigh Powell, executed coherent and well-rounded physical and vocal performances. The Troupe of white-clothed and white-powdered spirits (compliments of Alexandra Smith and Moira Garr’s makeup, as well as Kathleen Black’s costuming) completely stole the show. They acted together as a single unit operating under an exacting physical vocabulary and pitch-perfect harmony, and were a joy to watch. Amaka Umeh made a triumphant Hart House debut as Ariel, the airy spirit leader of the ensemble, bridging the gap between the ethereal and corporeal worlds of the play with tact.

From a production standpoint, elements that rose to the occasion include Joseph Patrick’s spectacularly integrated lighting design, director Jeremy Hutton’s restrained use of sound design, and a wavy, carved wooden set design by Joe Pagnan.

Director Hutton played up and won big on the slapstick comedy here. The pacing, delivery, and boldness of every comedic moment were played superbly. Caliban (William Foley), Stephano (Paolo Santalucia), and Trinculo (Cameron Laurie) acted as a whip smart comedic trifecta. Hutton’s musical theatre background as the founder of the Toronto Youth Theatre, and his familiarity with Shakespearean comedy certainly came into play in making these components big and cheeky. In particular, Foley’s Caliban not only brought in a wildly crafted Golem-esque creature as Calaban, but also a much needed energy and understanding of the text to the production. Even he, though, could only do so much to raise the level of energy of his cast mates.

In the first half, the key dramatic scenes with Prospero (Peter Higginson) felt stilted and empty, with a cast that seemed to be stiffly blocked and idle. Prospero’s famous lines in the final scenes bore little marquis value and slid like water off a ducks back. Andrei Preda’s Ferdinand and Katherine Fogler’s Miranda attempted to reinvigorate these scenes, and turned in great performances individually.

Overall, while the comedic moments Powell’s choreography, and the ensemble of spirits showed a level of careful consideration, the lack of heft in the dramatic moments of the play left much to be desired. I for one get quite excited when I see Shakespeare presented in a longer form (this particular production ran over two and a half hours). With that, however, comes great responsibility, and this particular production ultimately dragged along to a sleepy concatenation of events.

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