The current Burning Coal Theatre Company presentation of (Three Man) Tempest — adapted and directed by Brooklyn, NY actor, director, and playwright Randolph Curtis Rand, is an ingenious and audacious, but only partially successful 90-minute condensation of legendary English poet and playwright William Shakespeare’s valedictory 1610-11 play. The main problem is, how a cast of three can divvy up 20 or so characters and imbue them each with a distinctive personality — not to mention smoothly segue from character to character — with a minimum of props and costume changes to signal the switches from role to role to role.
Burning Coal patrons not intimately — and recently — acquainted with The Tempest and its dramatis personae may well become as hopelessly lost at sea as were the powerful magician and deposed rightful Duke of Milan Prospero and his precocious 15-year-old daughter Miranda, when Prospero’s treacherous brother Antonio and Antonio’s friend and ally King Alonso of Naples usurped Prospero’s throne, and set the duke and his then-three-year-old daughter adrift on the ocean, not knowing or caring whether they would land safely on a desert island, which 12 years later has a (human) population of three — Prospero and Miranda and their deformed, resentful, and lustful slave Caliban — plus assorted spirits, such as Ariel, whom Prospero can compel to do his bidding.
Randy Rand plays the wily Prospero with great fervor, but Adam Patterson inexplicably portrays Miranda without much passion and doesn’t bring much verve to his role as Ariel either. The “prog-rock drummer” Carter, on the ther hand, brings plenty of gusto to the part of Caliban, whom he plays with a hideous halloween mask topping his long, curly locks. (Caliban is a real son of a witch [Sycorax, in this case] and the rightful heir to her island kingdom, so his resentment of Prospero is understandable. But his attempted rape of Miranda is monstrous betrayal, as far as Prospero and Miranda are concerned — and Prospero punishes Caliban accordingly.
(Three Man) Tempest begins with a ghost light dangling in the dark over a red table (with trap doors), at which Randy Rand as Prospero sits and intones the poetic opening lines of this condensed script. With the scene set, the wronged former Duke of Milan happily spies his mortal enemies — Antonio and King Alonso — on a ship sailing near the island. He gleefully gins up a storm that seemingly shatters their vessel, and scatters its surviving passengers and crew — which also includes Alonso’s beloved son Ferdinand and the king’s envious and untrustworthy brother Sebastian, plus Alonso’s trusted confidant, the venerable Neapolitan courtier Gonzalo — ashore on Prospero’s island, so that the master sorceror can torment them and test their character find out whether any of them — except Ferdinand and Gonzalo (who compassionately provided Prospero with food and water and precious books from his library a dozen years ago, when Antonio put his brother and his three-year-old niece in a leaky boat and condemned them to the sea’s tender mercies) — are still the arch-villains that they once were.
Also in this motley “shipwrecked” company — for comic relief — are King Alonso’s rowdy drunken butler Stephano and his fellow roisterer, the king’s impertinent jester Trinculo, who eventually link up with Caliban and loudly hatch a preposterous drunken scheme to kill Prospero and supplant him as the island’s rulers. Much merriment then ensues from their intoxicated and predictably ineffectual efforts — and Prospero’s foreknowledge of their evil designs and consequent infliction on them of painful cramps and other maladies to punish their woozily concocted assassination plot.
All of the above-named characters — sometimes played by live actors and at other times depicted, puppet style, by dolls and various props, often cleverly manipulated by the cast — are not always clearly defined. Randy Rand and Carter put plenty of personality into their divers roles, but Adam Patterson is so strangely stiff and distant in playing not only Miranda, but also Ferdinand and Ariel, that at times he seems to be a sleepwalking through the parts.
Having seen a brilliant five-man version of the The Tempest, performed by the ever-delightful Actors from the London Stage in November 1998, I know that shorthanded productions of this sublime supernatural comedy can pay enoromous dramatic dividends — indeed, the AFTLS cast of The Tempest sometimes changed character in midstep! — but the gimmick and performance of (Three Man) Tempest never quite delivers for the Burning Coal audience, many of whom will no doubt exit the theater thoroughly confused about who was playing whom and what happened to reconcile Prospero with his enemies while restoring him and his daughter Miranda to their rightful places in the duchy of Milan.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 12th Cary, NC Boom! Magazine review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle: http://www.boomnc.com/boom-bits-reviews-books-movies-music-misc/wow-this-is-what-theater-should-be-three-man-tempest-at-burning-coal-theatre/; Dec. 11th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/inventive-shakespeare-in-raleigh-with-three-man-tempest/Content?oid=3783972 and Dec. 11th mini-preview by Zack Smith: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/three-man-tempest/Event?oid=3777185; Dec. 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/12/06/3439508/three-man-tempest-constantly-delights.html; and Dec. 6th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Julie-Kate Cooper: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=6511.
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents (THREE MAN) TEMPEST at 2 p.m. Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19-21, and 2 p.m. Dec. 22 in the Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except $15 Thursdays, $15-per-person for groups 10 or more, and $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold the door, 5 minutes before curtain, to students with ID).
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/three-man-tempest/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/185797581617286/.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Nick Karner): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9thoV9zGBg.
STUDY GUIDE: http://burningcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/Tempest-Study-Guide-Final.pdf.
2013-14 MAIN STAGE SHOWS: http://burningcoal.org/mainstage/.
PRESENTER: http://burningcoal.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/burningcoaltheatrecompany.
The Tempest (1610-11 play): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tempest (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://web.archive.org/web/20080513103055/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobTemp.html (University of Virginia Library’s Electronic Text Center).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/tempest/tempest.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Randolph Curtis Rand (Brooklyn, NY actor, director, and playwright): http://www.randolphcurtisrand.com/ (official website) and https://www.facebook.com/randolph.curtis.rand (Facebook page).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing email@example.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)