Campbell Gibson and Nate Stephenson in “The Tempest” at Deering Oaks park. Photo by Katie Day

A deluge of rain swept through the Portland area late Thursday afternoon, just a matter of hours before the Fenix Theatre Company was scheduled to perform Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Portland’s Deering Oaks park.

In its second week of performances, the play marks the theater’s first large-cast production since 2019. Mother Nature appeared to be throwing up yet another obstacle for Fenix to weather, but when 6:30 p.m. rolled around, blue skies shined down on the cast and patrons gathered near the park’s footbridge. The only storms remaining were those born from Shakespearean mischief, magic and mayhem.

The damp grass and stray waterdrops loosened from the oak leaves above gave an added touch of authenticity to the idyllic setting as folk musician Jim Sharkey readied the crowd with a pre-show performance of sea-themed songs that set the mood for the play to come. Four sheer white curtains, suspended between two trees, served as a backdrop, and warm-glow fairy lights marked the actors’ path through the audience. There was little pomp and circumstance, but none was needed.

For the past 14 years, the Fenix Theatre Company has aimed to bring theater to the masses with free performances that rely primarily on donations. The productions aren’t about fancy costumes or elaborate sets. They seek to entertain, and “The Tempest,” directed by Stacey Koloski, does so in abundance. From the moment the cast appeared to sing a ditty that doubled as an explanation of the venue’s rules (regarding cellphone use, smoking, etc.) and entreaty for donations, there was little doubt that the audience was in for a fun evening.

Kyle Aarons, Joe Bearor and Hollie Pryor in the Fenix Theatre production of “The Tempest” at Deering Oaks. Photo by Katie Day

The play is an age-old tale of deceit and plotted vengeance, with a hearty dose of bawdy humor to keep the plot lively. In customary Shakespearean style, there’s a lesson to be learned by both the characters and onlookers. This time it’s about forgiveness.

Fenix’s artistic director, Peter Brown, leads the cast as the play’s grand puppet master, Prospero. Shipwrecked on an island 12 years prior with his daughter Miranda (Campbell Gibson), the usurped Duke of Milan employs magic and the services of a mischievous spirit named Ariel (Kat Moraros) to reap vengeance on his deceitful brother Antonio (Mara Monaghan) and the King of Naples (Alonso, played by Zack Handlen), who helped Antonio steal Prospero’s dukedom.


The play opens amid a tempest conjured by Prospero that leaves Antonio, Alonso and their royal entourage washed up on Prospero’s island.

Brown has a knack for delivering Shakespearean dialogue, pausing perfectly for emphasis and to allow the meaning of the iambic pentameter verses to sink into modern ears. With no intermission, he carries much of the early dialogue, with Gibson well cast as his sweet, naïve daughter. Brown is joined by the delightful Moraros, who is a powerhouse of energy as the spirited Ariel. She’s a treat to watch as she flawlessly spews out her lines while flittering about with the unceasing energy of an overcaffeinated sprite.

There are plenty of characters to love in “The Tempest,” and Fenix’s cast brings them to life with panache. Joe Bearor is a captivating combination of fury and farce as Prospero’s island slave, Caliban. His performance kicks into high gear when he is joined by Hollie Pryor and Kyle Aarons as the play’s drunken fools, Trinculo and Stephano. Both Pryor and Aarons are adept at physical comedy, with Pryor delivering some of the play’s most priceless facial expressions.

Nate Stephenson, Morgan Fanning and Matthew Butcher nicely round out the cast as Alonso’s son and deceitful brother – Ferdinand and Sebastian – and the play’s most noble character, Gonzalo.

The Fenix’s cast is willing to do just about anything to entertain, highlighting their multiple talents. They double as sound effects artists, utilizing basic but effective tools reminiscent of productions from the radio days. Adding to the fun, they play a variety of instruments, with Fanning highlighted on violin.

The Fenix Theatre Company manages to achieve a lot with little, offering applaudable entertainment that’s well worth checking out. And, you can’t beat the price.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at: Twitter: @ahboyle

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