Chicago Theater Review: THE TEMPEST (City Lit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 4, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


When the sorcerer Prospero discards his magic staff and abjures his spellbinding ways, it is, of course, Shakespeare’s swan song too. (The play will no longer be the thing.) The Tempest, his final finished work, is a valedictory to the 35 or so splendid stage stories that precede it. If Prospero, perhaps to give his daughter a lesson in Callie Johnson as Ariel and Dave Skvarla as Prospero in City Lit's production of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST. Photo by Cole Simon.magnanimity, can forgive the enemies who supplanted him in Milan and consigned him to a barren island with only the savage Caliban, ethereal Ariel and devoted Miranda as his islemates, we too can forgive all above our worser selves — though it helps to have a magic staff. The Bard’s last enchantment retroactively blesses them all.

Sheldon Patinkin’s devoted and faithful staging, the first of three offerings to run in repertory at City Lit Theater, happens on set designer Dustin Pettegrew’s oval playing area surrounded by muslin curtains and woodland silhouettes. The real period texture comes from Patricia Roeder’s accurate and impressive Renaissance costumes, while the heart of the work is in Kingsley Day’s sweet new score that offers Shakespeare’s sturdy songs. (The lack of a first-act musical finale for Caliban’s “Freedom” anthem is, however, a real oversight.)

The rest is acting and here, unlike politics, trial testimony or commercials, that’s praise, not condemnation. Though a bit dogged in his declamations, Dave Skvarla’s Prospero earns his enchantments as he wavers from tender protectiveness of Laura Callie Johnson as Ariel and Dave Skvarla as Prospero in City Lit's production of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST - Photo by Cole Simon.Korn’s unfurling Miranda, tough love for Peter Ash’s doting Ferdinand, and checked fury at his captive enemies (Daniel Houle, Charles Askenaizer, Julia Kessler, Patrick Doolin, and Robert McConnell).

Some humor survives the tedious exchanges between Douglas Bryan Bean’s fawning Caliban, Matt Rockwood’s “fish out of water” court jester, and Evan Johnson’s bibulating butler. Callie Johnson flits and sings well as the spellbinding Ariel. The “masque” involving no less than Iris, Ceres and Juno comes off sumptuously enough, th0ugh its purpose defies its pageantry.

All in all, City Lit’s charmer delivers a diverting, if not enthralling, reimagining of a redemptive comedy. It’s as much music to hear as spectacle to see.

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The Tempest
City Lit Theater
Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue
scheduled to end on March 16, 2014
for tickets call 773-293-3682 or visit City Lit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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