Theater review: An aerial turn for the “The Tempest”

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Caroline Poe as a Spirit in "The Tempest."

(This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)

If you’re looking to see Shakespeare this weekend like you’ve never seen it before, look no further than the Vortex.

Presented by Renaissance Austin Theatre in association with the Vortex and in collaboration with Sky Candy Aerial and Circus Arts Collective, “The Tempest: An Aerial Tale” is the definition of collaboration. Adapted by Lorella Loftus, one of the key distinguishing factors in this re-imagination of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is the movement, which features aerial dance choreography by Andy Agne.

Original music and sound design by Chad Salvata, as well as whimsical scenic design and lighting by Ann Marie Gordon and Patrick Anthony, respectively, round out this unique exploit.

The Vortex’s theater space itself is unremarkable — a small black box that offers an intimate theatrical experience. But because the space is transformed scenically time and again for Vortex productions, it never feels the same when you walk in. The theater always does much with little.

Caroline Poe as a Spirit in "The Tempest."

Caroline Poe as a Spirit in “The Tempest.”

Shakespeare’s original cast is supplemented by six aerialists that represent air, water, fire and earth, and include the original Shakespeare character of Ariel (played by Sofia Rodriguez and Emily Villarreal), a fierce sprite who does Prospero’s bidding. The mysterious forces of the island to which Prospero has been banished— where an unsettling kind of magic lives — are well represented by the aerialists. The onstage rigging, which features aerial silks and rings, effectively represents the pull between Heaven and Hell.

The cast of characters is a mix of both good- and evil-doers. Miranda (Olivia Jimenez), daughter of sorcerer Prospero (David Boss), has never before seen a man other than her father until a shipwreck brings foreigners to their island. She promptly falls in love with the equally naïve Ferdinand, Prince of Naples. Meanwhile, a power struggle ensues between Prospero and his brothers, Duke of Milan Antonio (Chelsea Manasseri) and King of Naples Alonso (Kera Blay), which gets at the root of why Prospero is on the island in the first place: He was deposed years ago when Antonio took over as Duke of Milan, and brought 3-year-old Miranda to the island with him.

In true Shakespearean fashion, the plot of “The Tempest” follows parallel storylines. In another line, Caliban (Gabriel Maldonado) — a groveling, deformed island native serving as Prospero’s slave — contends with his mother, Sycorax (Gina Houston), a powerful sorceress-come-back-from-the-dead. Although Caliban and Sycorax have their fantastical qualities, their relationship issues are thoroughly human: Sycorax is disappointed to discover her son doesn’t take after her, lacking her magical potency.

An older Prospero (Tom Swift), through whose lens the entire story is told, concludes the play with a fitting line: “Magic is all in the mind,” a fitting reminder to those of us in the audience.


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