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The Tempest

Three actors bring an islandís odd inhabitants to life

Adam Kissinger, Bill George, and Vicki Graff are Tempest-tossed.

By Hannah Bruchman | Posted 6/9/2010

The Tempest

By William Shakespeare

Through June 13 at Theatre Project

The Tempest is widely considered the last play Shakespeare wrote, and he seems to pack in every plot twist he can think of in one final hurrah: love at first sight, magic, marriage, assassination attempts, and a dirty old island monster. Itís a lot to deal with, but Pennsylvaniaís Touchstone Theatre manages to pare it down to its essentials without losing any of its wonder.

The plot revolves around magician Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, who are stranded on an island after Prospero is booted from his post as Duke of Milan by his brother Antonio and the King of Naples, Alonso. Prospero (Bill George) spots the conspirators and Alonsoís son, Ferdinand (Adam Kissinger), on a ship off his island and conjures a storm (a tempest, get it?) to force them to his shores, setting off a series of events that explore the relationships between the inhabitants of the island and the newcomers from Italy.

Touchstone effortlessly zips through the play in 90 minutes, forgoing traditional scene changes, props, and a stage jam packed with characters for a sparsely set stage with only three actors. The minimalist approach works. The actors switch between a total of 10 characters without ever leaving the stage, hiding behind a wooden box, behind curtains, or by simply putting on a robe. The character changes are delightful and innovative. The show opens with the titular storm, and the three actors believably use a wooden box as a ship; in another scene, the box is used as a cave. A ball of fabric portrays Ariel, an island fairy, and is at times simply thrown around stage to simulate flyingósimple ideas like these inventively transform the stage and force the audience to use their imagination in seeing the magical island.

The setting is not important in this play--itís really about the relationships between the characters, and by forgoing scenery the production really focuses on the interplay between the actors. The show is admittedly a little stiff in the beginning, as Prospero explains his past to Miranda (Vicki Graff) in a long speech. Graff, in playing Miranda, tries unsuccessfully to liven the dull monologue with interjections, but it isnít until George switches to play Antonio that the play really perks up. George takes delight in interacting with Kissinger as Sebastian, Alonsoís brother, and the character switch ratchets up the energy.

George plays his roles expertly and leads the two other actors in performing the play. His male co-star, Kissinger, plays three completely different roles: Caliban, the crude island monster; Ferdinand;and Sebastian. Kissinger somehow manages to give ample attention to all three of these characters, believably hopping from one to the other. His portrayal of Caliban is outstanding; his languid body movements and gruesome, twisted facial expressions give life to the role. He plays the naive and love-struck Ferdinand in just a linen shirt and pants, but by putting on a red scarf and acting prissy and delicate onstage, he is immediately transformed into Sebastian.

Itís Graff, though, that really shines on stage, most notably in playing Miranda with spunk that would make Shakespeare proud. To play one character believably is an accomplishment; to play four is outstanding. Graff delivers her lines clearly and conversationally, and when she isnít speaking, her body language rings out loud and clear. Together George, Kissinger, and Graff transform Theatre Projectís small space on Preston Street into a larger-than-life desert island, a feat of magic that might impress Prospero himself.

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