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PlayMakers Rep Makes a Splash with “The Tempest”

Julie Fishell plays the sorceror Prospero and Maren Searle plays the mischievous sprite Ariel in "The Tempest" (photo by Michal Daniel)

Julie Fishell plays the sorceror Prospero and Maren Searle plays the mischievous sprite Ariel in “The Tempest” (photo by Michal Daniel)

To misquote the hit ABC comedy, “Modern Family,” “Excuse me, [Julie Fishell ] could play Batman and be the right choice.” A great strength in the current PlayMakers Repertory Company production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest lies in the gender-blind casting of the sorcerer Prospero. With a mop of brilliant white hair and goatee, a strong stance, and powerful command of the stage, Fishell entrances from her first steps onto the boards.

Co-directed by PlayMakers‘ artistic director Joseph Haj and renowned director Dominique Serrand, The Tempest is largely considered to be Shakespeare’s last play — a farewell to the stage. The piece is performed in rotating repertory with Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, which has a near mandatory need for a large pool of water. The Tempest,which begins with a large storm that brings Prospero’s brother and his men onto the island where he has been stranded, seems a right fit to be staged in and around the aforementioned pool, though sometimes the staging seemed repetitive.

Scenic and costume designers Jan Chambers and McKay Coble transformed the Paul Green Theatre (which is in a bit of a transformation itself) into a magnificent multi-leveled relic, what appears to be a downtrodden castle once constructed of marble. The main center of the set is the pool and a large outer rim allowed for movement along all sides; a bridge spans the pool, separating it into downstage and upstage sections — but it still felt limiting. The piece is underscored and enhanced by original music created and played live by Emma Nadeau and Ari Picker.

Co-directors Joseph Haj and Dominique Serrand equipped some strong performers to tell the tale. Along with Julie Fishell, Maren Searle’s Ariel (a sprite who does Prospero’s bidding) was wide-eyed and mischievous, appropriately mixing an attitude of servitude with teeth-baring power. Brandon Garegnani’s Ferdinand, the love interest to Prospero’s daughter, Miranda (Caroline Strange), had a first entrance any actor would be jealous of, as well as some really fantastic bumbling moments with Miranda. Stephano, a drunken steward, is played with incredible gusto and sharp comedic talent, by Julia Gibson.

PlayMakers‘ staple Jeffrey Blair Cornell is tasked with Caliban, a monster who inhabited the island before Prospero’s arrival. With a masterful headpiece and fake teeth, Cornell twists and hobbles his way through both staging and text, beautifully exhibiting his strong skills, despite Caliban’s offensive nature.

PlayMakers‘ has presented a great production, and an accessible one to see for first-timers. The text is clear, the story is finely etched, and the performances are strong.

The PRC cast for "The Tempest" includes (from left) Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Caliban, Julia Gibson as Stephano (standing) and John Allore as Trinculo (photo by Michal Daniel)

The PRC cast for “The Tempest” includes (from left) Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Caliban, Julia Gibson as Stephano (standing) and John Allore as Trinculo (photo by Michal Daniel)

 SECOND OPINION: Nov. 1st Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: (Note: You must register to read this article); Oct. 31st Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Gabriella Cirelli: and Oct. 15th preview by Jaleesa Jones: Oct. 16th Chapel Hill, NC UNC College of Arts & Sciences preview by Connie Mahan: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 3rd Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THE TEMPEST at 2 p.m. Nov. 10; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 and 15; 2 p.m. Nov. 16; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 and 20; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 24; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29 and Dec. 3, 4, and 7; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus):

TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), except $15-per-ticket (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances. There are also discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311,, or




BLOG: PlayMakers Page to Stage:



NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be an All-Access Performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12th, for Metamorphoses and Tuesday, Nov. 12th, for The Tempest.

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team after the Wednesday, Nov. 13th, performance of Metamorphoses and the Wednesday, Nov. 20th, and Sunday, Nov. 24th, performances of The Tempest.

NOTE 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performances at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16th, performance of The Tempest and the 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7th, performance of Metamorphoses. (for more information, click

NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7th, performance of Metamorphoses and the 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8th performance of The Tempest.

TICKETS: 919-962-PLAY,, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311,, or


The Tempest (1610-11 play): (Wikipedia).

The Script: (University of Virginia Library’s Electronic Text Center).

Study Guide: (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): (Wikipedia).

Joseph Haj (co-director of both shows and producing artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company): (PlayMakers Rep Bio) and (Facebook page).

Dominique Serrand (co-director of both shows and co-artistic director of The Moving Company of Saint Paul, MN): (PlayMakers Rep Bio) and (Facebook page).


Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He played free-spirited speller Leaf Coneybear in Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh‘s April 24-May 5 production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and he directed Raleigh Little Theatre‘s Sept. 6-29 presentation of Art. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story