Present Company Theatre continues its welcome tradition of Shakespeare on the Farm with this staging of The Tempest, directed by Lindsay Doleshal. Sitting among Rain Lily Farm's chicken coops, olive trees, and vegetable gardens, it's easy to forget that this pastoral enterprise is nestled in the heart of East Austin. And yet this very sense of a world apart is what lends itself perfectly to the production of this play. Setting foot on the farm, one is instantly transported to a faraway land of shipwrecks and sprites – a land where magic is certainly possible.
Renowned set designer Ia Ensterä has built the magic from the ground up here. Her breathtaking set extends from grass to treetop, using an abstract arrangement of crates to create whatever the play requires, from a crow's nest during the first scene's tumultuous shipwreck to a tower for the godlike Prospero (Omid Ghorashi) to reign over his island domain. Christina Barboza's lighting design serves as the perfect complement to the set, changing fluidly from ocean blues to earthy tones as the audience follows the action from sea to land.
The natural beauty of the play, however, is tinged with malice and vengeance, as Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan-turned-sorcerer, seeks to punish his usurping brother, Antonio (Jeff Britt), by orchestrating the eponymous storm that lands him and other members of the courts of Naples and Milan upon the island. In his dealings with those who conspired for his overthrow, Ghorashi's Prospero is a force to be reckoned with – a stark contrast to his loving behavior with his daughter, Miranda (Cassadie Petersen), who has lived with him on this remote spot since she was 3 years old.
Miranda knows no life apart from the island and for the past 12 years has interacted only with her father and his wrathful servant, Caliban (Sergio Alvarado), who is native there. Interestingly, Caliban delivers a substantial portion of his lines here in Spanish, which is cleverly used as a stand-in of sorts for an indigenous language. Miranda also speaks some Spanish but only in dealing with Caliban, reminding us that being raised on the island has left her stranded somewhere between undomesticated rustic and Milanese royal. Petersen's portrayal reiterates this idea to a T, from her deliberately unrefined movements to her awkward yet endearing first encounter with her future husband, the Prince of Naples, Ferdinand (Emily Rankin).
The production uses cross-gender casting to great advantage; both Rankin as Ferdinand and Jennifer Coy as Queen Alonsa (changed from King Alonso) give heartwarming performances. Gliding deftly between island inhabitants and the shipwrecked court and crew is Hannah Burkhauser's Ariel, Prospero's supernatural servant struggling to earn her freedom. Burkhauser's energy, movement, and creative use of the set are, fittingly, a breath of fresh air. Liza Feldkamp's beautiful costumes make the entire experience an aesthetic treat. Present Company Theatre has successfully created an island on the farm, but you don't have to leave Austin to get there.
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