Telluride Theatre: “The Tempest” Blows Up a Storm in Town Park, Now – 7/28!

Telluride Theatre: “The Tempest” Blows Up a Storm in Town Park, Now – 7/28!

For its 2019 Shakespeare in the Park happening, Telluride Theatre presents “The Tempest,” directed by Colin Sullivan. Shows, rain or shine, take place on the Main Stage in Telluride’s Town Park Saturday, July 20 – Sunday, July 28, 8 p.m. The Sunday matinee on July 21 is at  2 p.m. Suitable for ages 12+. Tickets are available at or by calling 970.708.7629.

Member/Sponsorship Night with cocktails and treats, includes a pre-show on Tuesday, July 23, 7 – 8p.m. on the Town Park Stage. Since space is limited, please respond by July 19 to

Below is our review, written after watching a very tight tech rehearsal Thursday night.

Simple yet profound, “The Tempest” is one of the last four plays that can be assigned to Shakespeare’s exclusive authorship, along with “Pericles,” (Telluride Theater’s masterful 2018 production of Shakespeare in the Park );“The Winter’s Tale”; and “Cymbeline.”

All four plays plays are conventionally grouped together and described as “romances,” shorthand for a kitchen-sink genre which classically features something for everyone young and old. There is tragedy in Prospero’s spectacular revenge on the black hats that usurped his throne. There is romantic comedy in the relationship between the moon-eyed lovers, the beguiling innocent beauty Miranda and her gentle swain, Ferdinand, son of one of Prospero’s enemies, Alonzo, King of Naples. There is food for thought: Does Prospero/Shakespeare really and truly abjure his “rough magic”? Does he in fact destroy his book (or staff) of tricks?

In other words, Telluride Theater’s production now (as Shakespeare’s original then) is fine, fantastical, thought-provoking fun family entertainment. Under the insightful, off-piste direction of Telluride Theater’s Colin Sullivan, “The Tempest,” is presented as a heartbreakingly sincere, weirdly wonderful piece of elaborate theatrical artifice. At the time he penned the play, around 1610, Shakespeare was, after all, a magician at the height of his powers, so accomplished at his craft that he could reveal the mechanisms of his most marvelous tricks and still astonish. Shakespeare mounts “The Tempest” in 1611 on All Hallowmas night. He is nearing the end of a prolific career that will result in at least 39  plays over roughly two decades – and he’s five years away from his own death.

Shakespeare’s tale of Prospero’s Island is inherently high theatre, unfolding as it does in a series of spectacles that involve exotic supra-human and sometimes invisible characters the audience can see, but other characters can only sense. The original was composed by Shakespeare as a multi-sensory, dramatic experience with sound and music used to complement the sights of the production, interwoven by the author with a palpable lushness, all elements Colin fully embraces.

Always innovative, Colin (with a little help from his friends) has pulled off yet another memorable, minimalist, multi-media show (the latter thanks in part to the obvious gifts of filmmaker, videographer and regular collaborator Alexei Kaleina). In the midst of all the storms roiling around in our world, at least this one has the good graces of a happy ending.

If only…

“By the time he constructs his ‘Tempest,’ Shakespeare is an absolute assassin when it comes to crafting a great story: he knows there is real magic in the joy we get from watching a butler, a clown and a monster drink their way around a desert island,” explains Colin. “He knows that watching young people awkwardly stumble their way through the maze of love gives us hope. He knows as a father that simply surviving after having to bury a child takes uncharted courage. And he knows, as humans, we are better than our individual ambitions. We were never meant to be islands. We are better as base monsters or soaring birds. And we don’t need wands or books to do spells, just bare stages, big stories and a tremendous amount of hands. We all end, but life doesn’t. ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’…and that’s enough,” wrote the director.

Not so fast: the subtext of Colin’s interpretation of “The Tempest” is a question: What happens when you lose your magic?

“These our actors /As I foretold you, were all spirits and/Are melted into thin air;/And, like the Baseless. Fabric of this vision,/The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,/The sole temples, the great globe itself, Yes, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,/And, like the insubstantial pageant faded,/Leave not a rack behind.”

Tradition sees that valediction from “The Tempest,” this folding up of the sorcerer’s equipment, as not only of Prospero’s, but clearly of Shakespeare’s.

The romancer is also a necromancer, who fears his end and frets about his legacy. Prospero, Shakespeare’s effigy, promises: “Deeper than did every plummet sound,/I’ll drown my book.”

Why you might ask would the Bard being saying his good-byes to his art before he turned 50? With perfect hindsight, he might have changed his tune, but the truth is sitting on his duff in self-exile in the country, away from London and his beloved Globe Theater, Shakespeare did not have the benefit of posterity’s view of his genius. So, while “The Tempest” may be the Bard’s final celebration of the transformative powers of art, it is also a statement of the limitations of that power.

This fable about art and creation and riff on colonialism and super power?  – Prospero did colonize the island –  has a Hollywood ending: Prospero moves from revenge to remorse and reconciliation, blessing love and the future as represented by the union of Miranda and Ferdinand, and embracing his enemies in the here and now – or now and then.

The numerous interpenetrating polarities in the play, most notably between nature and civilization or Art, strands which tie together at multiples points of intersection, come down to one essential question Shakespeare had posed in many other of his plays: What is it to be a human?

All that history, all those threads could easily become a tangled knot without a very attentive director like Colin Sullivan.

In a deft sleigh of hand, when the adaptation opens Colin introduces Prospero/Shakespeare as an old man foundering in a home for the aged, eyes fixed on a Boob Tube, lost and alone on an island of his own making. He is brought back to life by the love of his daughter Miranda who represents pure love, hope, and reconciliation – the latter high on the list of the Bard, who, in later life, seems to have been in the mode of pardon and atonement for sins, his own, and those of his colleagues and his generation.

The Tempest, cast:

In terms of his choices, Colin made his first smart move casting Chris Kendall as Prospero, a mature (read age-appropriate for the role) man and seasoned actor, who was ready, willing and able to summit that mountain of words, while embodying both the objective observer (Shakespeare) and his magical projection (Prospero). Chris is the center of the storm that is this play – and, as a man deeply wronged, the victim of his own internal storm.

As an actor, Chris is agile, moving seamlessly from enraged necromancer to loving father to authoritarian master to forgiving ruler with the subtlest changes in facial expression, gesture, and tone of voice. His Prospero is both solid and textured: contemplative, sad, ultimately full of remorse and benevolent. He seems capable of performing miracles – and does.

Chris’ Propero stands between Ariel, who is in name and deed is a sort of angel and Caliban, the very devil. He is Everyman, who embodies and can harness all the elements. He aspires to heaven, but the “thing darkness” is part of him.

Julia Caulfield as Miranda is a Telluride Theatre newbie. At once delicate and strong, she is the perfect ingenue, an innocent ready to take on the world – when she finally leaves the island.

Dave MacMillan lends regal hauteur to the role of King of Naples, Alonzo, making the transition from nefarious to remorseful totally credible.

Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, Simon Perkovich, seems to grow handsomer and more confident every year. As the callow Ferdinand, he easily beguiles Miranda – and charms the audience.

Colin is fond of turning conventions on their head, to whit, his casting of James van Hooser as Ariel. The role is generally gender-neutral, but almost always the character is a light sprite. Not so James, a large presence who embodies the imagination and the spirit of fire and air in the form of a massive crow. His character represents the unbearable lightness of being that someday must be set free.

Cat Lee Covert is also a different sort of Caliban, the embodiment of the id or basic and base human drives and libido/sexual desire. Colin chose not to portray Cat’s character as the usual grossly distorted monster. He trusted her, rightly, to deliver the spit and vinegar with, well, Cat-like movements, graceful, lithe and predatory, punctuated by the occasional growl or hiss. The portrayal is potent, gruff, and savage, but also gullible and pitiable.

Colin charged Suzanne Cheavens and Sue Knechtel respectively with the production’s  comic relief. Suzanne is terrific as the addled drunk Stefano, Alonso’s wine steward, and Sue is big, bold and wonderful as the cowardly court jester. Clearly the direction was to go over the top, to maximize the pair’s obvious chemistry. The pace never slackens when those two are on stage.

Another Telluride Theater veteran, Peter Chadman, is outstanding as Gonzalo, retaining his composure and a detached air of decorum despite the fact he is the object of Antonia’s and Sebastian’s sneers.

Denver-based actress Mary Higgins plays Antonia. As Prospero’s treacherous sister and the current Duke of Milan she is unapologetically fierce and cold as ice. Peter Lundeen is Sebastian, Alonzo’s brother, at first a reluctant, then a willing, very convincing murderous cad. Both make admirable villains. But Mary is also a raving beauty. Please bring her back in a romantic lead.

Jeff Taylor as a boatsman/swain; SAFYPT superstar Blaine Musselman as a mariner, Adrian and shape; and Sam Young as a mariner/Shape and Francisco, a Lord attendant to Alonzo round out the hard-working cast.

If no man is an island, Colin’s dedicated cast pulls together as one

“The Tempest” is a complex work, but its audience-friendly ideas and special sound effects make it an ideal entry point for Shakespeare novices and a gift to Bard fans, especially in a staging as vivid and vigorous as the one devised by Colin & Co., His staff includes technical direction and set design and carpentry, Dan Gundrum; costume design, Melissa Trn; lighting design Tommy Wince; makeup, Colleen Thompson; and video designer Alexei Kaleina.

Telluride Theater’s adaptation of “The Tempest” is an eternally magical, endlessly mesmerizing, phantasmagoric exit play, not to be missed.

Telluride Theatre, more:

Telluride Theatre is committed to advancing the performing arts in our region through innovative productions, education programs and community involvement. We create theatre that lives in moments of truthful human connection, promotes joyful celebration and is an open dialogue, accessible to all audiences.

Director bio:

Colin Sullivan (Director) is Executive Director and an ensemble actor in Telluride Theatre. He holds a B.A. in theatre arts from St. Lawrence University and a Master’s in Teaching from Fordham University. Colin has trained as a performer at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville’s professional apprenticeship program, the Michael Chekhov Institute, as well as with Double Edge Theatre and the SITI Company. In addition to his Executive Director role, Colin is an instructor in the company’s unique ACTions education programs. He has appeared in Telluride Theatre productions since 2008.

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