The Tempest, generally believed to be Shakespeare's final play, is both a bumbling island adventure and a philosophical meditation on humanity. This Portland Shakespeare Project production will disappoint purists or those craving weighty intellectualism, but it will satisfy just about everyone else, thanks to Michael Mendelson's lighthearted—if not particularly lighthanded—direction. Most notably, Mendelson inverts the genders of the deposed Duke of Milan and of his devious brother, Antonio. As the Duchess Prospera, Linda Alper—dressed as if ready to read your Tarot cards—brings ferocity to her monologues on the nature of revenge, young love and power. As her sister, Adrienne Flag plays her character not as a deplorable villain but as a sensual, comedic vamp with blood-red stilettos and flask.
This Tempest also capitalizes on the slapstick storyline of drunk butler Stephano (Sam Dinkowitz) and Prospera's carbuncular servant Caliban (Matthew Kerrigan), whose acrobatic and inebriated endeavors steal the show. By contrast, the traditional power players—the new Duke of Milan, his adviser Gonzalo and even young lovers Prince Ferdinand and Miranda—fade into the periphery. Not that that's a bad thing: Susannah Jones' relatively quiet turn as Miranda and Alper's downplaying of Prospera's leadership struggles mean the play's most iconic lines regain airiness. It's still a tale of a storm and a shipwreck, but one that's fit for the summer.
SEE IT: The Tempest is at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278. 7:30 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through Aug. 3. $20-$30. Tickets here.