Theater & dance

stage review

Nigel Gore is a force of nature in Shakespeare & Company’s ‘Tempest’

Nigel Gore portrays Prospero in “The Tempest” at Shakespeare & Company.
Stratton McCrady
Nigel Gore portrays Prospero in “The Tempest” at Shakespeare & Company.

LENOX — As the audience settled into their seats Sunday evening for “The Tempest’’ in Shakespeare & Company’s brand-new Roman Garden Theatre, an outdoor stage nestled among trees and flowers, the atmosphere was more tranquil than tempestuous.

You might even say it felt rather like a midsummer night’s dream. But Nigel Gore brought the storm with him.

I refer not to the meteorological event that opens Shakespeare’s play, a violent squall of rain and gale-force winds that causes a shipwreck and pitches the passengers overboard, though that is indeed the doing of Prospero, the island sorcerer portrayed by Gore.

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No, there is another storm in this “Tempest,’’ which is directed with boldness and flair by Allyn Burrows, and it rages within Gore’s (nearly) unappeasable Prospero, the deposed duke of Milan.

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Gore’s greatness as an actor has always stemmed at least partly from his natural air of command. To that, he adds a seething, magisterial fury as Prospero. The intensity of his performance presents a striking contrast with Olympia Dukakis’s sorrowful portrait of the sorcerer (renamed Prospera) in 2012 at Shakespeare & Company.

Where Dukakis’s Prospera was a melancholy figure heavy with loss, Gore’s Prospero is spoiling for a fight, clearly inclined to neither forget nor forgive the transgressions against him. However elegantly attired Gore may be (bright white shirt, suspenders, black pants, black boots) in this “Tempest’’ — which director Burrows has opted to set in 1890, the twilight of the Victorian era — you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of Prospero. His power and lethality become most apparent when Gore slips on a sorcerer’s robe and swings his magical staff as if it were a truncheon.

Two men are definitely on Prospero’s wrong side: Antonio (Mark Zeisler), the venal brother who usurped his dukedom a dozen years earlier, forcing Prospero into exile with his young daughter, Miranda (Ella Loudon); and Alonso (Josh Aaron McCabe), the king of Naples, who abetted Antonio in Prospero’s overthrow.

Both of them were aboard the ship Prospero wrecked, and both have made it ashore, along with the king’s brother, Sebastian (Thomas Brazzle). The vengeful sorcerer has plans for them, abetted by Ariel, his airy spirit helper. Ariel is portrayed with an intriguing combination of alertness and ethereality by Tamara Hickey (who’s married to Burrows). Hickey is swathed in blue silk and wears a hairstyle that seems to be an homage to David Bowie as he appeared during his Ziggy Stardust phase.

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A begrimed, red-eyed Jason Asprey, wearing a scaly vest and what looks like a dog collar around his neck, throws himself with gusto into the role of Caliban, a half-human inhabitant of the island who is enslaved by Prospero. The scholar Northrop Frye once observed of Caliban that: “No character in Shakespeare retains more dignity under so constant a stream of abuse.’’ Asprey doesn’t convey much dignity; his Caliban is instead defined by his unremitting resistance to Prospero.

Like most productions of “The Tempest,’’ this one is marred by an excessive focus on the drunken butler Stephano (McCabe again) and the jester Trinculo (Bella Merlin) as they careen about the island with Caliban, having entered into a lunatic alliance with him to kill Prospero and make Stephano the new ruler. Blame Shakespeare, not the actors, who nimbly execute their comic assignments.

Believed to date to around 1610-1611, “The Tempest’’ is one of Shakespeare’s late romances and may have been the last play entirely written by him. For Burrows, “The Tempest’’ has served as an ending and a beginning: In December, he helmed an elegiac production of “The Tempest’’ as his farewell to Somerville-based Actors’ Shakespeare Project, which he led for seven years before being appointed artistic director at Shakespeare & Company. His current “Tempest,’’ which is more boisterous than the one at Actors’ Shakespeare Project, is the first production he has directed at Shakespeare & Company since he took over the Lenox-based troupe.

It was Burrows who had the idea to transform the erstwhile Shakespeare Garden into a 287-seat theater, and he certainly makes the most of the open-air venue in its inaugural production. Gore’s Prospero sometimes oversees the proceedings while looming from the top of stairs that rise up the exterior of a nearby building; Hickey’s Ariel occasionally materializes in a tree, or, rather on a platform affixed to the tree by a rope; and characters hurtle to and fro, entering and exiting the stage from all directions.

Composer and sound designer Arshan Gailus has created an eerily beautiful musical setting for Ariel’s song (“Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes . . .”) . Ariel sings that song to Ferdinand (Deaon Griffin-Pressley), the son of the king of Naples, with whom Miranda is smitten. Loudon plays Miranda not as a gentle maiden but rather as a forthright and forceful young woman, vehemently making her affections known to Ferdinand within moments of their first meeting. This daughter of Prospero is a fierce chip off the old block.

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As for Prospero, he does eventually forgive his enemies, of course, and gets his dukedom back, and prepares to return to Milan, where, he says, “Every third thought shall be my grave.’’ But at least in this “Tempest,’’ you get the feeling that Prospero’s enemies would be well-advised to watch their backs even once they’re back in Italy.

THE TEMPEST

Play by William Shakespeare. Directed by Allyn Burrows. Presented by Shakespeare & Company. At Roman Garden Theatre, Lenox, through Sept. 3. Tickets $30-$60, 413-637-3353, www.shakespeare.org

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.