Shakespeare relied on actors’ skills and audiences’ imaginations to conjure the exotic locales and startling sorcery in “The Tempest.” Burning Coal Theatre Company’s “(Three Man) Tempest” does the same. With just three actors, a bare stage and a few props, it constantly delights and amazes.
Director Randolph Curtis Rand adapted this tale of revenge and forgiveness into a 90-minute one-act in which he also plays Prospero. Taking so much responsibility on might seem egotistical, but Rand’s conception is beautifully controlled, and he allows his fellow actors equal opportunities to shine.
Burning Coal’s usual three-quarter round seating configuration has been converted into a tradition proscenium stage setup, with a raised narrow platform running across the front from wing to wing. The actors often stand behind it, manipulating objects representing their characters (dolls, liquor bottles, skulls); at other times, they stand and crouch on it or pop out of its several trapdoors.
Shadows caused by hanging bulbs or by small pools of bright light add mysterious atmosphere in Daniel Winters’ design. Katy Werlin’s costumes mix Elizabethan and modern, overlaid to represent several characters at once. The actors produce sound effects on an array of instruments, including autoharp, plastic bucket and toy piano.
The actors all have clarion enunciation, delivering the text with expert intelligence and understanding. Rand makes Prospero warmly wise, amusingly evolving into the kindly adviser Gonzalo and the wily usurper Antonio. Adam Patterson greatly impresses with his quick-change characterizations of Miranda and Ferdinand in their several love scenes, as well as his simultaneous playing of King Alonso and his treacherous brother Sebastian. The single-name actor, Carter, gives the creature Caliban hilarious crudeness and adds comic spark to drunken Trinculo and Stephano. Carter must juggle all three in several high-speed scenes, a miscalculation that too often blurs the characterizations.
The production might not please purists, as the overall tone is tongue-in-cheek. But Rand’s inspired theatricality (such as having all three actors play sprite Ariel with a flashlight under the chin) and his underlying sincerity (confirmed by compelling readings of the play’s poetic philosophy) make this version more captivating than many grandly staged presentations.