“The Tempest” is one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” It has some humorous scenes and characters, but not enough to be a full-fledged comedy. However, it’s clearly not a tragedy, either, as it doesn’t have any death or heroes. So what is it? At the Utah Shakespearean Festival, in the hands of director Kathleen F. Conlin, it’s an uneasy mix of occasional comedy, light romance and untapped potential.
Prospero (Michael Kevin) is established as a thrilling character. Once the duke of Milan, his power was stolen by his brother, and he and his daughter Miranda (Mary Dolson) were sent out to sea. Now, 12 years later, Antonio (Jeff Swarthout) the usurper and other noblemen have been wrecked on the island Prospero inhabits.
Early on, Prospero gets angry as he recalls the wrongs done him years before. This turns out to be a precursor to his real fury, which slowly unfurls as he plans the revenge he will take on Antonio and the others. He uses his fairy servant Ariel (Rachel Mabey) to split them up throughout the island, apparently working up to a major act of revenge. Then he draws them together for a final confrontation. And then … nothing. Prospero’s apparent change of heart is not evident in the performance.
Those familiar with the play may be puzzled at how Prospero grows increasingly hell-bent on retaliation, since they know that in the end, he takes no action and frankly forgives everyone. The way he has established his own dukedom on the deserted island, reigning over fairies and monsters, is an intriguingly deranged situation — but Shakespeare didn’t write an ending that makes that concept amount to anything.
This production misses a lot of opportunities for comedy throughout; only the drunken Trinculo (Mark Brown) and Stephano (Michael Fitzpatrick) are consistently entertaining. The problem with making the action dramatic is that the supposed villains, Antonio and Sebastian (Cameron McNary), are utterly ineffectual — fine for comic characters, but a bad idea in a drama, which needs its villains to be more ruthless, dangerous and menacing.
David Ivers is impressive as Caliban, the deformed half-monster who serves Prospero. He maintains a speech impediment and physical difficulties without becoming an uncomfortable caricature.
After Ivers, we have Michael Kevin, Mark Brown and Michael Fitzpatrick to enjoy. The rest of the cast is serviceable, but unspectacular. It seems possible they were as puzzled by the play’s uncertain tone as were the rest of us.