reviewed by Daniel Shock

I am going to admit something right off the bat: when I heard that I was going to be reviewing Shakespeare’s The Tempest performed by a youth theatre company (I had never seen or heard of Agape Performing Arts Center until this show) – I braced myself. There is no way this is going to be good, I feared. I will guess that not many of you readers have sat through high school productions of “The Crucible” that felt 6 hours long. I have. Also, I remember being a teenage actor trying to perform a monologue from Hamlet and STRUGGLING with the material. When I was a teen, Shakespeare did not come easy to me. It doesn’t come easy to me NOW. It takes me several weeks of reading and re-reading the lines. It takes studying translations side by side to understand what I am supposed to be saying. It also takes a lot of patience from my directors. Lastly – and admittedly the most egocentric reason that I was steeling myself for a potential painful night of theatre – I have played Prospero in a production of The Tempest. I was proud of my performance and the performances of my cast-mates. Surely, this would not come close to our genius production.

So, I was wrestling with a couple of prejudices that sent me into my mental “review thesaurus”. How was I going to be encouraging, yet honest…positive, yet truthful? How was I going to appropriately set audience expectations in a way that would not deflate anyone’s spirit or sense of self as a performer? I have teenagers. I know what they are like. Was I going to finish writing a review and feel like I just told a big fat lie?

Well, I am a little ashamed of myself. I am delighted to say that the Agape Performing Arts Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as directed by Kathy Phipps, is delightful and quite worthy of genuine praise and admiration. Not only that, it is AT LEAST as good as the production I was in. Probably better. Okay…definitely better! Can you think of higher praise from an egocentric actor?

Miranda (Laura Sickmeier) and her father Prospero (Evan Wolfgang) in a scene from “The Tempest” at Bard Fest.

The Tempest tells the story of a wizard, Prospero (Evan Wolfgang), and his daughter Miranda (Laura Sickmeier). They have spent 12 years stranded on an island after being exiled from Milan. Prospero was the Duke of Milan until his brother Antonio (Nathan Ellenberger), aided by King Alonso (Matthias Neidenberger) usurped his dukedom. Prospero and Miranda were placed in a boat and set adrift and eventually washed ashore on the island. The play opens as a ship carrying Prospero’s brother Antonio, the King Alonso and several others is wrecked on Prospero’s island. In the next scene we meet Prospero and his daughter. Prospero tells Miranda the tale of how they exiled and came to live on the island. We also learn that the storm and shipwreck were not just coincidence, but the result of Prospero’s magic. Living on the island with them are two servants, the monster Caliban (Aidan Morris) and the spirit Ariel (Audrey Duprey) . Both yearn to be free. Prospero plots to regain his dukedom and uses his magic to do so. He sees to it that the shipwreck survivors are separated into groups using these skills.

The spirit Ariel (Audrey Duprey) and her master Prospero (Evan Wolfgang) in a scene from Agape Performing Arts’ production of “The Tempest”.

Ferdinand (Grant Scott-Miller), the son of the king is found by Miranda and Prospero. Prospero encourages a romantic relationship between the two as this will help to secure Prospero’s position.

Trinculo (Kenneth Cassady), the king’s jester, and Stephano (Maura Phipps), the king’s drunken butler; are found by Caliban. Caliban pledges himself to these two to get their help in killing Prospero, so that he may be freed.

Miranda (Laura Sickmeier) forms a bond with Ferdinand (Grant Scott-Miller) in a scene from “The Tempest” at Bard Fest.

King Alonso is accompanied by his brother Sebastian (Gilead Rea-Hedrick), Antonio (Prospero’s Brother), the King’s trusted counselor Gonzalo (Kathryn Rose) and an attendant lord Francisco (Patrick Cassady). Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo so Sebastian can become King. Prospero tasks his spirit servant Ariel with confounding this plot. Prospero promises her that he will free her when she has helped him to achieve his goal of regaining his title and having his revenge on those that have wronged him.

Director Kathy Phipps has a lot to proud of with this production of The Tempest. There are some inherent challenges with youth theatre taking on Shakespeare. The audience, for example, will have to suspend their disbelief somewhat as children and teens take on roles four or five times their actual age. I am pleased to say that this group overcomes all such challenges as these talented actors play against their actual age and in some cases their actual genders. They are all as a group remarkable. Never once did I doubt that anyone of them understood what their lines meant. They all created believable living characters. A fantastic achievement for adults, let alone teens. Okay – I’ll try to let the fact that they are teenagers go. You get it.

As Prospero, Evan Wolfgang, gives a wonderfully gentle interpretation of the sorcerer. He and Laura Sickmeier create a tender and truthful father/daughter relationship. And she, along with Grant Scott-Miller as Ferdinand, create a classic Shakespearean romantic couple. Aidan Morris played the monster Caliban with relish. He portrayed the rage, exasperation and humor of the character very well. Audrey Duprey as the spirit Ariel was flawless. She sang beautifully and moved like a dancer. It was easy to see why Prospero loved her so. Maura Phipps and Kenneth Cassady as Stephano and Trinculo were extraordinary in their humor and buffoonery. Comedy is hard – and they pulled it off with great skill – they had the audience in stitches. As King Alonso, Matthias Neidenberger was utterly convincing as a man three times the age of the actor. Prospero’s brother, Antonio was portrayed by Nathan Ellenberger. Ellenberger was able to convey the characters disdain and anger with those around him without being cartoonish or overly broad. Kathryn Rose as Gonzolo, and Gilead Rea-Hedrick as Sebastian were also outstanding. Every one of these fine actors may have a future onstage if they choose to pursue it.

In addition to the main cast, the minor roles were filled with performers who gave it their all. They were present and engaged at all times. It feels a little bit unfair to not call out everyone by name. But it would be a long list. Remarkable performances were fashioned by all.

Aidan Morris brings the monster Caliban to life in Agape Performing Arts’ “The Tempest” at Bard Fest.

Other aspects of the show that I admired included the opening sequence with the storm burdened ship. It was done with music and dance. Dancers conveyed the outline of the ship being buffeted by the waves. The waves were portrayed by performers in costume. It was lovely, and conveyed the action well. In a few different places in the play, notably when Prospero tells his daughter how they came to be on the island – his tale is illustrated by performers acting out the story as he tells it. It brings life to a scene heavy with exposition which can become dull quite easily.

The technical achievements in this show were many. The costumes by Director Kathy Phipps, were remarkable. Beautiful and detailed. Highlights included the costumes for Caliban, Ariel and the effective ocean wave costumes. Makeup was also spot on for everyone – Caliban and Ariel being particularly impressive achievements. Lighting and sound were effective aspects. If I have one minor criticism, it would be that the music was just a little too loud in the shipwreck scene. Dialogue was difficult to make out. Again – a very minor concern. It could be that my particular hearing loss was coming into play there.

Do not hesitate to see this show, it is something special. It is magical. You will find this production at The District Theatre located at 627 Massachusetts Ave Indianapolis, IN 46204. You can order tickets online at http://www.indybardfest.com.

  • photos by Antonio Chapital