Carroll Gardens

Smith Street Stage delivers a spellbinding ‘Tempest’ in Carroll Park

June 14, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Kate Ross plays Prospero in Smith Street Stage's production of  “The Tempest” in Carroll Park. Photos by Chris Montgomery

Are we ready for a female president? That remains to be seen.

Are we ready for a female Prospero? Absolutely. Especially when she’s Kate Ross.

The actress is spellbinding as the Bard’s master of magic in Smith Street Stage’s production of “The Tempest.”

The theater company is carrying forward its annual summertime tradition, now in its seventh year,  of producing Shakespeare Under the Stars in Carroll Park — free of charge to audiences.

Included in this tradition is a commitment by the theater company to casting women in male roles.

Prospero’s part is a plum one — the Duke of Milan in exile on a deserted island, with his daughter in his care, spirits at his beck and call and an unexpected opportunity to punish the people who wronged him.

One of every three lines in the play is spoken by Prospero, according to Smith Street Stage’s calculations.

A logical way to have an actress portray Prospero is to make it clear that in the production the audience is watching, the character a woman. This is signaled near the beginning of the play staged in Carroll Park when Prospero’s daughter Miranda calls Prospero “Mother.” Other characters call Prospero “Ma’am,” which is of course the correct way to address the Queen of England.

Ross is riveting. She’s a commanding and passionate Prospero, who wields Shakespeare’s 400-year-old iambic pentameter verse with great impact.

She and the other performers know how to hold the audience’s attention against the sounds of traffic on Smith Street and the occasional helicopter buzzing overhead.

‘But you, O you, so perfect and so peerless’

Outdoor venues on mild evenings are delightful for theater audiences, but can be challenging for performers. And this “Tempest” production in the popular Carroll Gardens park is, indeed, a delight.

It starts — and ends — with a song aboard a ship.

There’s a shipwreck. Mourning, treachery and the magical machinations of Prospero and her servant spirit Ariel (played superbly by Peter Molesworth) ensue.

Revenge against her brother Antonio (played as an aptly slimy villain by Joe Jung), who stole her dukedom, is within Prospero’s grasp. But true love, forgiveness, and reconciliation reign supreme in the end.

By the way, two other traditional men’s roles are played by women in this production, which is directed by Beth Ann Hopkins, Smith Street Stage’s artistic director.

Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy plays Sebastian, the scheming sibling of  Alonso, the King of Naples (Brian Demar Jones).

Kate Eastman is Stephano, the “drunken butler,” as her boss, the King of Naples, calls her. Eastman is scene-stealingly hilarious. So is Will Sarratt as Trinculo, Stephano’s drinking buddy.

Bravo to Patrick Harvey, who plays Caliban, a deformed son of a witch (that’s a literal description, not a euphemism). He curses compulsively but also speaks in lovely verse about the sweet music that mysteriously sounds forth on the island.

Much applause goes to Raquel Chavez for her effervescent portrayal of “admired Miranda” and John Hardin, who’s excellent as Miranda’s suitor Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples.

Ferdinand explains candidly to Miranda that in the past, he has fallen for several women with “several virtues.” Each woman turned out to be flawed in some way.

“But you, O you, so perfect and so peerless, are created of every creature’s best,” he tells her.

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Smith Street Stage’s production of “The Tempest” runs through June 26 in Carroll Gardens.

It’s being performed Wednesdays through Sundays in Carroll Park, on the corner of Smith and Carroll streets.

The start time is 7:30 p.m., but it’s advisable to arrive a half-hour earlier.

Admission is free.

See SmithStreetStage.org for further info.