Nate Brantley and Nathan Bukowski in The Tempest. Photo: Lee Gibson

The Tempest

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jessica De La Rosa

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

The curtain speech is interrupted by a frenzy of student actors messing around to pick and choose their characters seemingly at whim. Then the entire cast forgets to show up to their opening night. “Does anyone know The Tempest?”, a young actor hollers in the hope of putting on a little Shakespeare. Jessica De La Rosa has crafted a chaotic and youthful rendition of the romantic comedy for the Commonwealth Theater Center’s Young American Shakespeare Festival.

Once these actors select their props and costumes, we are treated to the play within the play. While some audience plants were a little more obvious than others due to extroverted energy, the company creates a smart production full of magic. Without getting too meta, This Tempest is set in the era of gangsters and pinstripe suits, period choices never fully explained, but to be honest, they don’t need to be. Nate Brantley is a shifty wise guy in Aviators as Antonio which is a nice contrast to the over-the-top blubbering from Alonso, played by Emma Morris. This nice blend of concept and comedy delivers a loose production. Chaos, magic, and reality on a deserted island take shape as these last-minute stand-ins dive deep into their performances. 

For a cast of actors who claim to have no idea what to do, they make some strong choices for passion and levity. Laura Gibson’s Prospero is every bit as wise and confident as an aging sorcerer should be. Gibson provides a paternal performance that is logical yet bittersweet. After watching daughter Miranda (Lillian Cobb) flirt and be courted by the shipwrecked Ferdinand (Trace Henderson), tackling a betrayal from his brother, and monitoring the spirit, Ariel, Gibson’s delivery of the famous, “…we are such things that dreams are made of”, speech is poignant and strikes a deep chord of self-acceptance. By keeping a watchful eye on Cobb’s innocent Miranda as she experiences all the splendors of love for the first time. Prospero’s asides about Miranda and Ferdinand’s courtship only enhance and solidify the endearing young love, one that is made delicate and tender by Cobb and Henderson.

While Shakespeare’s play is a lovely romance, there is a full comedy subplot of shipwrecked ne’er-do-wells traipsing around the island. With some booze, natural spirits, and betrayals, hijinks are bound to ensue. As Ariel, Lachlan Apple brings an avian quality to Prospero’s airborne spirit, giving a physical performance with gentle dove-like gestures and bird-of-prey intensity. While Apple graces the air, Lucy Dingman-Root’s Caliban delivers physical comedy with rigid movements, twists, and crawls. Covered completely from head to foot. When paired with Atticus Haden’s nitwit Trinculo and Sophia Retone’s boozy schemer, Stephano, Dingman-Root’s Caliban shifts from a tortured tree spirit to a fool caught up in a hapless farce.

By the end of the show, the lovers marry, spirits are set free and wrongs are made right. Not only that, this young frenetic cast of stand-ins return their props and costumes and go back to their lives. It is within the final moments of The Tempest though, that the impact and magic of theater is truly revealed and appreciated.

The Tempest

May 11, 13, 15 & 18 @ 7:30 pm
May 20 @ 2:00 pm

Part of the Young American Shakespeare Festival

Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204

Kate Barry has worked with many different companies around town since graduating in 08 from Bellarmine University. She’s worked with CenterStage, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions. She used to work in the box office at that little performing arts center on Main Street but now she helps save the planet. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. Her play “Catcher Released” won an honorable mention with the Kentucky Playwrites Workshop. She has written for LEO Weekly and as well. When she is not writing, she teaches yoga. Thanks for reading!