By Bridgette M. Redman
When Paul Hopper takes center stage at Water Works Theatre Company’s production of “The Tempest” as the magician Prospero, he summons his sprites who transport the audience to the otherworldly island where the fantastical is commonplace and all who enter risk the transformation of their body and soul.
With a plethora of found instruments and flying spirits, the island becomes a fully realized locale as Director Jeff Thomakos bewitches the audience with stage magic and enchanting original music by Composer Dan Bilich.
The spirits perform gymnastics in the air, playing their instruments as they twist on the rigging the lets them fly over the stage and through the audience. The trio of spirits, Jaclyn Strez, Samantha White and Katie Terpstra, are fascinating to watch and are led by the outstanding performance of Sara Catheryn Wolf as Ariel, the lead spirit who does Prospero’s bidding and helps to transform his spirit from one of vengeance to one of forgiveness. Wolf’s howls as she re-enacted her imprisonment in the tree were heart-wrenching and convincing.
Hopper creates a highly sympathetic Prospero, a man who grows in virtue and honor as the play progresses. He shares his vulnerability under the gentle tutelage of Wolf’s Ariel, eventually exchanging his power to claim a humanity of the most tender sort. He is a doting father who delights in his daughter’s wonder at the world and the love she feels for Prince Ferdinand. Julia Garlotte as Miranda and Zach Hendrickson as the Prince are sweetly taken with each other, filled with such a wonder at the other that the rest of the world fades away.
Rusty Mewha’s Caliban falls from the sky to leer at Miranda and begrudgingly perform Prospero’s tasks. He moves as a monster, as twisted on the outside as he is on the inside, his strong voice and performance later overshadowing the two drunken clowns Stephano and Trinculo.
The transport to the fantastical isle was aided by the more than 50 masks that Nina Barlow designed and created (with help from Holly Conroy). These creations created an island full of spirits who could be hospitable, beautiful, frightening and befuddling. The masks let Prospero tell his tales of the past, frighten his guests and enchant those who would do harm. They also served as the device that let him lift enchantments and clear away the confusion in the eyes of the hunted.
When you have trained professionals with voices as powerful as those of Hopper’s, why would you subject it to the vagaries of a sound system? The squealing of the microphones and the fading in and out as people moved through the space was a distraction that bumped the audience out of the fantastical world that had been created.
The cacophony of the microphones were the only distraction from a finely performed show in which everything from singing, dancing, unusual set dressing, costumes, sound effects and committed physicality worked together to allow a soul’s tempest to calm and those caught up in its throes to emerge better than they were before.
Water Works Theatre Company at Starr Jaycee Park, 1101 W. 13 Mile Road, Royal Oak. Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 7. $20. http://www.waterworkstheatre.com.