Spirits to Enforce | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Spirits to Enforce 

Spirits to Enforce, Theater Oobleck, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Various schools have viewed The Tempest as an allegory of the end of the Renaissance, the dawn of colonialism, and Shakespeare's own artistic twilight. Oobleck's treatment is largely tangential to the play, yet author Mickle Maher has homed in on a central theme often overlooked: the destruction of identity by time.

In a twist on Maher's signature narrated method, the history of Prospero's isle following his return to Milan is recounted by 12 of his spirits, recast as superheroes defending Fathomtown, the nightmarish marine city built by Ariel and Caliban in the old man's wake. When the spirits finally defeat Caliban--who now styles himself Dr. Cannibal, PhD--they attempt a celebratory production of The Tempest, with disastrous results. No patrons or audience members can be found; rehearsals are a mess; and to their great dismay the house is filled with supervillains on opening night, led by the escaped Dr. Cannibal, recast as the ultimate critic.

Somehow the spirits' production is a success--though Ariel is nearly laughed off the stage. Apparently unable to play himself, his crisis of confidence lies at the heart of Maher's wry drama; if The Tempest is a magician's farewell to his hall of mirrors, Spirits to Enforce depicts that hall after his disappearance--the slow decay of echo and reflection into nothingness. Guy Massey is marvelous as the wistful Ariel, and the other performers--undirected as always, here a supreme irony--aren't far behind.

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