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MONDAY, APRIL 29, 2024 | 7:30 PM
The Loreto Theater at the Sheen Center | 18 Bleecker Street

Directed by JESSE BERGER

Featuring Jason Bowen, Reeve Carney, Robert Cuccioli, Carson Elrod, Karl Kenzler, Anthony Michael Martinez, Jacob Ming-Trent,  Patrick Page, Leenya Rideout, Lily Santiago, Derek Smith, Raphael Nash Thompson, Sam Tsoutsouvas, and Lillias White

Featuring songs by Elliot Goldenthal created for Julie Taymor's The Tempest, with additional music by Greg Pliska

Revenge can cause quite a commotion. Full of power and poetry, Shakespeare’s final play is a magical tale of shipwrecks and storms, of justice and mercy, and, ultimately, life and art. This funny, imaginative and hauntingly beautiful work brings Red Bull Theater back to its founding roots with Shakespearean romance at its pinnacle. On a remote and mysterious island, Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, conjures up a storm and a violent shipwreck to trap his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso on the island. And thus begins his plot to restore his beloved daughter Miranda to her rightful place, using his powerful Art. With spirits, monsters, and drunken fools, Shakespeare weaves a powerful spell of reconciliation. This magical story of old endings and new beginnings is the perfect way to celebrate Red Bull Theater's two decades of innovative classical theater.


From its opening moments Prospero dominates the action of The Tempest, and few dramatic characters have been interpreted more variously. For many decades Prospero, a magus or magician figure, was regarded as a benevolent teacher of others and the ideal artist, perhaps a stand-in for Shakespeare himself.  When, toward the end of the play, Prospero renounces his art, many have read the moment as Shakespeare’s own farewell to his theatrical career.

       Others, however, have seen in Prospero a tyrant, forever dictating how others should behave, or a colonist who has stolen an island kingdom from Caliban, the “monster” whom Prospero essentially has enslaved after Prospero arrives on a Mediterranean island where Caliban lives. Caliban claims the island as his own kingdom, and writers from the Global South, like the Martinique author Aime Cesaire, have tended to agree.  In adapting the play, Cesaire made Caliban a resistance fighter who refuses to capitulate to Prospero’s attempts to rule the island and to “civilize” its native inhabitants.   

       Indisputably, Prospero has a teacherly and controlling side.  He uses magic to force everyone on the island, including his daughter Miranda and the old enemies he has shipwrecked on the isle, to remember the past as he wants it remembered; and he controls their freedom of movement as well as their freedom of thought. While Prospero may believe he does these things for the good of those under his control, revenge and a desire for power never seem entirely absent from his motives. Toward the end of the play Prospero is reproved by Ariel, an airy sprite whom he has rescued from imprisonment in a tree but has subsequently forced to do his bidding, for having lost the capacity for pity. In doing so, Ariel implies, Prospero has made himself less than fully human. To what extent Prospero remakes himself after Ariel’s rebuke remains a question with which all directors and readers of the play must struggle.


              Born in 1564 in Stratford, England, William Shakespeare left for London sometime in the late 1580s. Gravitating quickly to the flourishing world of London theater, the young Shakespeare began to write plays, occasionally in collaboration with other playwrights like Thomas Nashe.  He was lucky to join a group of talented theater practitioners who spurred his creativity and whose work remained for decades in constant conversation with his own.  Shakespeare was also lucky that in London he could access all the riches of a vibrant and growing metropolitan center located close to the royal seat of power in Westminster. London also brought him in contact with all the diverse people that the city’s expanding commercial life brought to it from Europe, the Levant, the Americas, and beyond. 

              By 1594 Shakespeare had become a member of one of the city’s most stable theater companies, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later renamed The King’s Men when James I came to the throne in 1603.  For several decades Shakespeare remained one of the company’s leading dramatists, but we know he also acted and was a company shareholder, that is, someone who had committed money to the company and took part of the profits from its performances. During his London career Shakespeare wrote some of the most celebrated plays in the Western dramatic canon in an astonishing variety of genres. In the 1590s he helped bring into being the genre of the English history play (think Richard III or Henry V) while also writing early tragedies such as Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet and romantic comedies like Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It.  The decade after 1600 saw the creation of his most acclaimed tragedies from Hamlet to Macbeth and dark or problem comedies like Measure for Measure.  At the end of his career Shakespeare was still innovating, writing late plays influenced by medieval romance and Italian tragicomedy.  The Tempest, first performed in 1611, is one of those late plays. Shakespeare died in Stratford in 1616. 

- JEAN HOWARD | Scholar & Dramaturgical Consultant, Columbia University

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