While Prospero is hardly a young man in the panoply of Shakespeare heroes, "The Tempest" does not assign him to his deathbed. Until now.
In Valeri Lantz-Gefroh's adaptation, which won the imprimatur of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Open Stages Project, Prospero's magic appears to emanate from a life-passing-before-him event in the intensive care unit of a modern hospital. Or perhaps it's a pharmaceutically induced hallucination. Whatever, some of the props for this abridged version at Staller Center's Theatre II, a Stony Brook University drama department black-box space, likely came from University Hospital across the street.
Lantz-Gefroh, who also directs her Asylum Theatre Company in this vigorously entertaining reinterpretation, may be on to something here.
Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, on what is believed to be his 52nd birthday. "The Tempest," widely considered his final play, was first produced in 1612. So it's not a stretch to speculate that the voice of Prospero, the wise but exiled nobleman, was Shakespeare's own.
Backdrop video by Rob Doyle, who doubles as royal counselor Gonzalo, adds a dreamy quality to the austere ICU, brightly lit by Elizabeth Silver with hospital garb enhanced by Peg Morin. Doctors are the jesters and fools in this "Tempest," and tormentors of James Alexander's slave Caliban.
The director's husband, Steve Lantz-Gefroh, plays Prospero with the confidence of an accomplished actor to whom whispers of nepotism are but jealous murmurings. He commands the stage, as Prospero must, even as he's confronted by those who betrayed him. That would be son Antonio (Robert Shilling), who conspired with Queen Alonza (Jillian Cross, re-gendering King Alonzo in the Bard's original) to leave Prospero, the Duke of Milan, to the fishes.
But Prospero found refuge on an island where he contentedly passed his love of book knowledge on to his daughter Miranda (Diana Lucia). But a storm, conjured by Prospero's magical powers -- aided by spirit Ariel (Deborah Mayo) -- presents an opportunity for revenge. The queen and Antonio are on board a tempest-tossed ship, along with Prince Ferdinand (Robert DiSario).
Miranda begs her father to spare their lives. And before you can say "forsooth," she's fallen head over bedpan for heartthrob Ferdi. Of course, this being a comedy -- even if it is, literally, Prospero's last laugh -- all's well that ends well. Where've we heard that before?
WHAT William Shakespeare's "The Tempest"
WHEN | WHERE Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., Staller Center's Theatre II, Stony Brook University
INFO $18, $10 students; asylumtheatrecompany.org, 631-632-4291