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Theater Review (Chicago): The Tempest by William Shakespeare at Steppenwolf

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I think it was about ten years ago that I made the pilgrimage to Stratford, Ontario with my father and some other family members to see The Tempest. I can't honestly remember a time when I wasn't enamoured of William Shakespeare, and every summer the theaters of Stratford put on a months-long festival celebration of the Bard from their namesake town.

I remember the experience well, but one big piece of the trip faded as the years have passed: I completely forgot what the play was about. I remember the theater, the costumes, even the candy bar I ate during the intermission – Mars Dark – but the plot of The Tempest didn't stick with me. Today, however, I can confidently say that I will never forget the plot of The Tempest again.

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company's latest production is bold and bright and frightening enough to make its mark on the memory centers of any brain. Non-traditional in execution (there are zip-lines, glowing floorboards, video projections, and a laptop onstage for most of the action), the production manages to take a winding, fantastical work and make it completely relevant and understandable.

As the show unfolded in its unorthodox manner, I was struck by a sense of how beautifully complementary a successful re-imagination of a Shakespeare text is to the more traditional productions one typically sees. There is something truly satisfying about the flexibility of Shakespeare's work, and familiarity with the traditional staging makes a new, modern version that much more astonishing. In the case of Steppenwolf's Tempest, that new twist proves not affected and sterile, but rather even more accessible than a traditional performance like the one I saw as a girl.

Okay, time for the bad news, Shakespeare fans: this run of The Tempest is ending on May 31st. You have about a week to catch it before it's gone; remember that students and gamblers can get discounted tickets by waiting at the box office before the show, but keep in mind that during this last week that might mean not actually making it in to see it.

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About Marissa Flaxbart