The Tempest offers gender commentary with a light touch | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The Tempest offers gender commentary with a light touch 

Midsommer Flight’s free outdoor production proves to be a relevant romance.

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James Murphy

A weekend marked by extreme heat and storms makes the cataclysm at the outset of The Tempest hit home. But even without that assist from nature, Midsommer Flight's free outdoor touring production of Shakespeare's late romance, directed by Beth Wolf, has plenty of resonant moments, thanks in part to the cross-gender casting of Stephanie Monday and Julie Proudfoot as Prospero and Alonso. The idea of powerful women being cheated of their place in public life—or even having their lives threatened—by callow, grasping men like Antonio (Dylan S. Roberts) and Sebastian (Scott Myers) feels mighty relevant.

Wolf's compact staging comes in at a tidy 90 minutes, but nothing feels rushed here. In addition to Monday's powerful sorceress, there are strong performances from Richard J. Eisloeffel as Caliban (more brooding Lost Boy than malevolent "mooncalf") and from Kat Moraros and Tom McGrath as Trinculo and Stephano, the drunken servants who join forces with Caliban to try to overthrow Prospero. Elizabeth Rentfro's music, performed by Elana Weiner-Kaplow's Ariel and her flower-children band of sprites, brings a folk-pop bounciness that contrasts with the more somber musings of Monday's Prospero on mortality and redemption. Despite some ambient neighborhood noise, the text comes through clearly. At the performance I attended, the line "the watchdogs bark" was greeted by a howl from an actual pooch. That sort of felicitous coincidence can't be guaranteed every time, but the possibility adds a fillip of extra enjoyment to a show that wears its ingratiating charms with a light but sure-handed touch.   v

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