Daydream believers

NSF’s interpretation of The Tempest is colorful and lighthearted

Katie Sweeney as Miranda and Cameron Crain as Caliban in NSF’s <i>The Tempest</i>.

Katie Sweeney as Miranda and Cameron Crain as Caliban in NSF’s The Tempest.

Rated 4.0

While impromptu drag shows, Vanilla Ice tributes and blanket-wrapped Nevadans on the grass clash with traditional images of the Bard of Avon, the Nevada Shakespeare Festival embraces all of these elements to create an exuberant, fast-paced and funny outdoor production of William Shakespeare’s romance The Tempest.I drove to Gardnerville with my fiancé, Sam, who had last seen the play performed in London. Between getting lost in the desert and the incessant wind that chilled us through the last two acts, we could have easily been embittered. But as the actors came out for their curtain call, I thought, “This was worth the drive.” The first thing Sam said was, “This was better than the Royal Shakespeare Company.”

The play takes place on a fantastical island where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, have been shipwrecked for 12 years. Over the years, Prospero has developed magical powers and assumed control of the island’s bizarre natives. When Prospero’s Italian enemies sail close by, he creates a storm, or tempest, to shipwreck them and wash them ashore.

Director Andi Johnson presents the island as a circus, with Prospero as the ringmaster and the natives as circus freaks. This allows for colorful costumes and makeup, not to mention impressive acrobatics and entertaining antics from the talented ensemble cast, which includes children as young as second-graders.

Another noteworthy interpretation is the casting of a woman in the role of Prospero. Jeanmarie Simpson, the actress originally cast in the part, recently became ill and was replaced by the director. In spite of the late switch, Johnson is an effective über-matriarch, and even her occasional reading from a script felt believable. After all, Prospero is a sorceress who learned magic from books, and the presence of a thick book in her hands seems appropriate.

However, Prospero’s character seems overly cruel in the presence of a sympathetic Caliban (Cameron Crain), the rightful heir to the island who has been demoted to Prospero’s slave. Caliban is commonly portrayed as a frightfully deformed savage who attempts to rape Miranda and assassinate Prospero. In this production, these elements are downplayed in favor of more humorous aspects. Adorned with artfully drawn “tattoos,” Crain looks eccentric rather than frightening.

Crain leaps into his role with abandon and steals the show. Some of his most remarkable moments are unscripted, when he playfully interacts with the audience. If Caliban, as played by Crain, were to have usurped control of a small island, I suspect that many audience members would have joined his society. However, the drunken antics of Caliban and the king’s servants overshadow some important plot points in the second half of the play, causing the ending to feel muddled.

Katie Sweeney and Dane Nielsen portray the young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand memorably. Sweeney acts just as a boy-crazy melodramatic teenager should when a handsome prince washes up on her isle. Nielsen gives one of the most true-to-life performances in the show, infusing his 400-year-old lines with Class of 2003 intonation and mannerisms. The result is hilarious.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on," declares Prospero towards the play’s end. The magical island Johnson has created is not a land of nightmares but rather a pleasant afternoon daydream tale of new love, redemption and forgiveness.