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Review: The Tempest (Accidental Shakespeare Company)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: The Tempest (Accidental Shakespeare Company)   
The Tempest 

Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Angeli Primlani
Heartland Studio Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
thru March 3  |  tickets: $10-$15   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
   Read entire review



‘Tempest’ all talk, no action


Review: The Tempest (Accidental Shakespeare Company)


Accidental Shakespeare Company presents


The Tempest

Review by Lauren Whalen

The works of William Shakespeare are open to interpretation. Over the years, I’ve seen everything from Romeo and Juliet set in the Wild West to As You Like It in a modern-day summer camp. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. A strong concept is fine, but it involves cohesion and execution. Neither of these were present in Accidental Shakespeare Company’s production of The Tempest. Not only was the concept absent outside of the press release, everyone on stage seemed to be acting in his or her own private play.

Review: The Tempest (Accidental Shakespeare Company)
This tale of magic, love and redemption in the wake of disaster is ripe for play. (Several years ago, a Broadway production featuring Patrick Stewart and a then-unknown Rainn Wilson gave The Tempest the Kabuki treatment.) Accidental Shakespeare Company  aims to infuse its Tempest with what the press release refers to as “Alchemy Punk”. Director Angeli Primlani and her production team, according to the press release, have created this form by building upon “the natural and supernatural worlds”, “the place where science fiction and fantasy collide”, and “17th century wind and magic”. Or something like that.

I’m still not quite sure what Alchemy Punk is, as I didn’t see any evidence of it in this Tempest. Patrick Ham’s set design is quite literal: an island scene in earth tones with two levels and a couple of awkward entrances. The lighting cues designed by Benjamin Dionysus are unremarkable and a little awkward, illuminating the actors until they were fully offstage. Kate Setzer Kemphausen’s costumes had some nice colors and details, but appeared like a faded version of steampunk, only without the cool gadgets. Some actors were visibly uncomfortable in them.

The utter lack of cohesion among the cast also doesn’t help. Many actors shouted and screamed, completely disregarding the tiny venue. The Heartland Studio is so intimate, an audience member can hear every breath even from the back row, but the cast seems to think they are in a large theater. The characterization is all over the place, each actor appearing to do his or her own interpretation, without a director’s guidance and singular vision. This is most obvious with Christopher Aruffo’s Prospero. Though the character is at times a domineering mastermind who sets himself apart, Aruffo never fully engages with anyone else on stage. His bio states that he did PhD work in Psycholinguistics, and while the development of dialects can be quite helpful when performing Shakespeare, it can’t be the only visible factor.

Perhaps the most disappointing is Mary-Kate Arnold’s Miranda. Arnold possesses the ethereal beauty and elfin physicality most often associated with the on-the-verge ingénue. However, she projects such a high level of discomfort, it’s difficult to discern her acting skills or understanding of the character. Arnold clearly isn’t at ease perched on a rock, as was her blocking for most of the play, and consistently fiddled with her costume. It seems like Miranda’s objective is to keep the audience from seeing her underwear. (And speaking of costumes: “They’ve dressed Miranda like Wilma Flintstone,” my viewing companion observed at intermission. Red-gold hair piled on top of her head, short white tunic, chunky necklace. She was right. You can’t un-see that.)

Review: The Tempest (Accidental Shakespeare Company)

So much of this comes down to Primlani’s direction (or lack thereof). Was this too ambitious of a project for a new company? Did the Alchemy Punk concept get lost along the way? It’s hard to tell. And she had a lot to work with: not only is The Tempest a fun script laden with humor and plenty of drama, but several members of the cast are quite talented. Aaron Wertheim is appropriately pompous as a displaced royal searching for his son, and Julia Kessler shines as an articulate mother figure. Gary Henderson brings just the right amount of camp to the perpetually intoxicated Trinculo. And Jared McDaris radiates magic as sprite Ariel, bringing whimsy to each syllable and completely comfortable jumping around and making mischief.

New companies spring up in Chicago every season, and with them, hiccups. The Tempest has several, but hopefully Accidental Shakespeare Company will persist. Nothing I’ve pointed out in this review is irreparable. However, Chicago is a competitive theater town, and small companies must take that into consideration if they are to survive beyond their premieres.


Rating: ★★



The Tempest continues through March 3rd at Heartland Studio Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sundays 1:30pm.  Tickets are $10-$15, and are available online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Review: The Tempest (Accidental Shakespeare Company)




Christopher Aruffo (Prospero), Jared McDaris (Ariel), Jamel Booth (Caliban), Mary-Kate Arnold (Miranda), Chris Berghoff (Ferdinand), Gary Henderson (Trinculo), Andrew Mehegan (Stephano), John Amedio (Antonio), Evan Johnson (Sebastian), Julia Kessler (Gonzalo), Aaron Wertheim (Alonso)

behind the scenes

Angeli Primlani (director), Patrick Ham (set), Kate Setzer Kamphausen (costumes), Benjamin Dionysus (lighting), Melissa Schlesinger (sound, original music), Margaretta Tobias (props), Ashly Dalene (movement), Adrian Balbontin (asst. director), Sherry Legare (producer, marketing), Cat Cefalu (stage manager), Patrick Van How (scenic artist), Jimmy Neenan (set crew), Julia Kessler (text crew), John Amedio (marketing)


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