An ominous moment occurred early on opening night of Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Tempest,” at White River State Park (July 31-Aug. 2), adding a nervous start to what would eventually prove to be an enjoyable evening.
HART Producing Artistic Director Diane Timmerman was on the temporary stage pulling raffle tickets for pre-show audience prizes when her microphone began cutting in and out, bringing back memories of the snapcracklepopping of the troublesome sound system that plagued its previous summer Shakespeare productions.
And so, as the show proper began, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the sizable crowd bracing for sound problems…and relieved when none occurred. In fact, the sound was impeccable from my lawn perch (folding chairs were graciously supplied free of charge to audience members who didn’t byo). At last, the solid work from HART could be heard as well as seen.
After a visually inventive implied shipwreck opening, this “Tempest” took a bit of time building momentum. Blame Shakespeare, in part, for piling on the exposition and daylight savings time for keeping the sun bright during the first act. Shakespeare, of course, gets a pass on plot holes. As with most superhero movies, the powers of Shakespeare's leading character are inconsistent—if Prospero can conjure a storm and guarantee the safety of the crew, why is he as ineffectual as Gilligan in getting off his island? And if Shakespeare is going to have Prospero talk about a character as vivid as Sycorax the witch, the least he could have done is give us a scene with her.
Robert Neal’s youthful Prospero showed himself to be more man than magician here, always with the potential for anger just below the surface. This helped make the turn-the-other-cheek ending (startling, really, when you realize the same guy wrote Hamlet) into something more moving than if he had discovered his inner Gandhi. Neal’s Prospero let his head control a heart that seemed quite capable of dolling out a harsher punishment on the brother who betrayed him. His restraint made him compellingly human and his final acts even braver.
Once again, HART assembled some of the region’s finest professional actors, with such leading men as Charles Goad, Scot Greenwell, Ben Tebbe, and Mark Goetzinger giving rich life to supporting roles. The young lovers were charming if a tad one-note, Ryan Artzberger provided a multi-faceted Caliban, and Laura Glover’s lighting magically filled in where special effects couldn’t. A few contemporary additions to the script danced the line between creating access and pandering (with a bit of “Let It Go” lyrics crossing over that line) and some of the silliness seemed blatantly choreographed rather than organic, but director Courtney Sale’s production otherwise honored the text as well as HART's history of crowd-friendly productions in WRSP.
Long may the tradition continue.