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'The Tempest' gets the Bard right at BAM

The magic creeps up on us in "The Tempest," Sam Mendes' thoughtfully enchanting production of Shakespeare's late masterwork of transcendent forgiveness. In contrast with the constricted and uneven "As You Like It" that opened the Bridge Project's two-play season at BAM, this "Tempest" finds better ways to meld the American and English actors into the project's goal of a transcontinental company.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that the gracefully updated production revolves around the marvelous Stephen Dillane as Prospero, the exiled, shipwrecked Duke who rules the sandy circle of island with infinite sorcery, distracted scholarship and the occasional bolt of cruelty. With his keen intelligence and disheveled elegance, this less-furious Prospero appears from the start to anticipate the awesome fragile renewal to come.

The storm he conjures to capture his enemies is not especially fantastical, but his monster-slave Caliban (a much-improved Ron Cephas Jones) emerges with slick mystery from beneath the sand. Juliet Rylance, as Prospero's sheltered and precious daughter, Miranda, makes a delightful girl-woman eager to discover the "brave world" their banishment denied her. (Prospero brings her up to date with home movies he somehow saved from her privileged childhood of ponies and pianos.)

Some of the most beautiful imagery comes from Ariel, the spirit-slave, even if the casting of Christian Camargo robs an actress of the role to give it to another bare-chested young man in a hip black suit. Camargo rises from the dullness of his "As You Like It" to embody an androgenous, shape-shifting creature who can hover over the action from a shelf or startle the interlopers with huge eagle wings. I don't understand why he has to wear an evening gown to cast one spell, but, considering the ineptitude of the actresses in this year's company, perhaps better him than them.

"The Tempest" runs in repertory with "As You Like It" through March 13, after which the Bridge tours festivals in Europe and Asia, landing in London at Kevin Spacey's Old Vic in June.

WHAT "The Tempest"

WHERE BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn

INFO $25-$95; 718-636-4100; bam.org

BOTTOM LINE Bridge Project regains its balance.

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