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HART's 'The Tempest' is rewarding for those who waited out rain to see it

White River State Park, located in downtown Indianapolis, has a magical quality all its own, making it the ideal venue for Shakespeare’s supernatural-infused “The Tempest.” Seen by this writer Friday, the play was presented by Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre (HART), on the second evening of its three night run.

 "The Tempest"
Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre
Ryan Artzberger as Caliban in "The Tempest"
Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre

The production was performed on a temporary stage, facing the park’s grass amphitheater, divided into stone-edged tiers on which the audience sat on lawn chairs. The stage was flanked on the left by the old Washington Street Bridge, now a pedestrian bridge, which is accented by globe-shaped lights on tall poles. On the right was the NCAA headquarters building. Behind the stage the White River could be seen bordered by huge trees on its banks, making for an enchanting backdrop.

It was touch and go as to whether impromptu rain showers would cause the cancellation of the production but eventually the show did go on as scheduled. Unfortunately, a band called “Nothing Clever,” which was supposed to provide pre-show entertainment, couldn’t perform due to the ongoing drizzling rain that fell prior to the show. The unpredictable weather wasn’t enough, however, to deter the hundreds who picnicked while sitting under umbrellas and blankets as they waited for the rain to subside, which it did eventually, once the show commenced.

Ultimately, those who attended the event (many of whom are themselves performers) knew to stay put because it isn’t that often that one is able to see a first-rate professional production that offers free admission, such as that provided by HART.

But first, a bit about this company which makes White River State Park its summer home. Heartland Actors’ Theatre is a professional theater company with Butler University Theatre department chair, Diane Timmerman, as its producing artistic director. Its members belong to the Actors' Equity Association. Responsible for the professional quality of its productions are its actors, designers and technicians who work at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, the Phoenix Theatre and other Equity theaters around the country.

Sponsors of “The Tempest”, and responsible for its free admission, were The Lilly Endowment, The Christel DeHaan Family Foundation and The Indianapolis Foundation, a CICF affiliate.

Courtney Sale, the associate artistic director of the IRT, directed the production which included an all-star cast consisting of many of the city’s most highly regarded actors. They included Adam Crowe (Alonso), Scott Greenwell (Sebastian), Robert Neal (Prospero), Antonio (Mark Goetzinger), Ferdinand (Ross Percell), Gonzalo (Charles Goad), Caliban (Ryan Artzberger), Trinculo (Chris Hatch), Stephano (Ben Tebbe), Miranda (Zoe Turner), and Ariel (Phebe Taylor).

The talented members of the company, astutely guided by Sale, all turned out well-crafted performances, interpreting Shakespeare’s text with conversational ease, and without benefit of stilted British accents, making the language accessible and meaningful for the diverse audience representing all ages. Resulting from Sale’s clever staging, the audience, as evidenced by frequent laughter, was also highly entertained. "The Tempest," a tragicomedy, tells a story about Prospero, his daughter Miranda, Caliban, a monster and a sprite named Ariel who live on an island and the mostly devious characters who show up after their ship wrecks. No doubt, the theatre goers were also inspired by the message of forgiveness. It is a major theme of the work and wonderfully conveyed by O’Neal as Prospero who forgives those who horribly betrayed him.

As far as the comic content of HART’s “The Tempest,” never was there a more hysterical treatment than that of Artzberger as Caliban, Tebbe as Stephano and Hatch as Trinculo, the jester, during scenes in which their clueless characters engage in a drunken plot to overthrow Prospero. Featuring loads of broad physical comedy and hilarious ad-libbing, the comic chemistry between the three was thoroughly evident, as was the obvious delight they disaplyed playing against one another.

Contributing to the stellar quality of the show's production values and its otherworldly setting were Rob Koharchick's set, Laura Glover's lighting design, Bart Simpson's props, Guy Clark's costumes and composer Todd M. Reischman's sound design.

Prior to curtain, during introductory remarks, Timmerman asked audience members to fill out surveys which the company uses for grants proposal purposes. At the same time she also pointed out that HART hopes to interest potential supporters in building a permanent structure in the park for their use as well as other arts groups. Based on “The Tempest,” as well as HART’s critically acclaimed past productions, not to mention the entire experience of enjoying food, drink and camaraderie while taking in the Bard for free, it is hoped that the community gets behind what is essentially a no-brainer.

For more information about Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre visit heartlandactors.com.

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