Rhinoleap's The Tempest is Gorgeous, Innovative || Review

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Rhinoleap's The Tempest is Gorgeous, Innovative || Review

Caliban. Source: Rhinoleap

Director Patrick Philip Osteen also plays Caliban. Source: Rhinoleap.

Last night, I had the very great pleasure of attending Rhinoleap Production's The Tempest. I had a chance to interview some of the folks of Rhinoleap a couple of weeks ago, and I came to the show with a great deal of curiosity and some high expectations. Rhinoleap delivers, on all counts. The show runs through Sunday and is a must see. 

Rhinoleap's truncated version of Shakespeare's final play ia about 90 minutes long with no intermission. Although Shakespeare's language is preserved, the script is shortened, mostly to remove redundancy (as director Patrick Osteen mentioned in our interview, Shakespeare tended to say everything five times). In some scenes, dialog is replaced entirely with choreographed movement, and to great effect.

The spirit of the play is preserved entirely, and there are some thrilling additions. I've seen many versions of The Tempest. This one, I can honestly say, is the most magical. With its unique blend of music, puppetry, and the mix between light and shadow, this Tempest had me transfixed from beginning to end. 

I was most excited to see the puppets, and I found them enchanting. Three characters use -- or are played by -- puppets: Ariel, Caliban, and Prospero himself, who walks around with a giant mask that he uses alternately as a forbidding face for Caliban and the play's two fools, Trinculo and Stephano.

Ariel's is the simplest but also, interestingly, one of the most expressive. It's merely a ball and a sheet, but that very basic combination conjures both the airy, inhuman spirit of the character and allows the puppeteers (there are two of them for Ariel) to create some of the most thrilling moments in the play, including the tempest itself and the loveliest rendition of the spirits' masque that I've seen. 

It's hard to pick a favorite character, but Caliban might be it, and the puppet had a lot to do with it. Director Patrick Osteen is Caliban, and his face is visible alongside the monster's, which interestingly adds both humanity and uncanniness to the character. Caliban's movements, as he creeps around the stage in dirty robes, were evocative, strange, and compelling. Finding a new way to play Caliban is a challenge--and Rhinoleap has done it. 

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The majority of the characters don't use puppets, and the acting is strong. This is a fantastic, professionally-trained cast, and they don't miss a beat. This was one of the rare performances I've seen where literally everyone is a stand-out. Alex Hoeffler's Prospero perfectly balances his dual roles of being a loving father and dispensing justice. We are along for every step of his personal evolution as he moves from a man moved by anger to one moved by compassion and reflection. Lauren Karaman's Miranda was perfectly guileless and heartful. Her relationship with the king's son, Ferdinand, develops sweetly and is crystallized in one lovely scene of movement that needs no words. 

Andrew Ryder's Gonzalo was every bit as loyal and lovable as one might hope, with no shred of canned sentimentality. Supporting characters, like Jacobi Howard's weary, grieving King Alonso, the traitorous Sebastian and Antonio, and the clowns Stephano and Trinculo (who are hilarious), are equally as strong.

Live music composed and performed by Andrew Ryder runs alongside the action. I loved the way it worked with certain scenes. Mostly ambient, it adds a layer of beauty that at times becomes diagetic, transforming from soundtrack to an important detail of the plot. 

The space at the Asheville Masonic Temple is perfect. In their third floor space, it's an intimate, beautiful setting. The chairs, which curve around the stage, ensure that there's really no bad seat. 

This is a wonderful production that truly takes on its source material in a new way while maintaining the timeless spirit of the original work. I loved it so much that I'm planning to see it again. There are two more performances--one tonight (Saturday) at 8 pm and one tomorrow (Sunday) at 3 pm. Don't miss the chance to catch Rhinoleap's magical version of this play before it leaves town. Tickets are on sale online at rhinoleap.com and at the door.