Oak Park Festival Theatre Presents THE TEMPEST Review — Live At Last!

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Oak Park Festival Theater THE TEMPEST
L-R Kevin Theis as Prospero, Bernell Lassai as Ariel

It’s difficult to imagine that there weren’t some, if not many, in their lawn chairs — given the day’s delta variant warnings — who didn’t have a back room somewhere in their mind musing about how long this sense of freedom will last…

 Oak Park Festival Theatre is the FIRST Post-Pandemic Returnee

We are outside and socially distanced, watching the very first live theater performance in Chicagoland since the pandemic started (officially) — Oak Park Festival Theatre’s rendition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

As we watch Prospero (Kevin Theis) quake at the power in his vibrating staff while he shipwrecks a boat of his enemies, the speakers from behind sizzle and whip to convey the nuclear power of his magic.  AH! Yes, that’s what live directional sound effects sound like—we now remember.  Then, as we strain to hear some of the junior talents speak opening lines above the din of surround sound cicadas, we remember that live comes with its own set of warts too.

Oak Park Festival Theater THE TEMPEST
Oak Park Festival Theater THE TEMPEST
Kevin Theis as Prospero Photo: Maia Rosenfeld

Before the imagined curtain rises, Artistic Director Barbara Zahora tells us that this garbage bag stacked set is actually a Pacific Island made of plastic bottles, an update that perhaps Will Shakespeare might approve of but unlikely could imagine.**  A tall two-layered vertical set giving all perfect sightlines (Scenic Design: Ryan Fox) transports us from sinking boat, to island spots, and many a perch for Ariel (Bernell Lassai) and Prospero to observe the effects of their magic.

It’s Lassai’s wide-opening arms and twist-posed torso that telegraphs just how physical the acting is from start to finish.  Whether it’s the ever-curled legs of the monster slave Caliban (Matt Gall), the drunken antics of Stephano (Orion Lay-Sleeper) and Trinculo (Savanna Rae), or the aver of chastity by Ferdinand (Austyn Williamson) that brings Shakespeare’s more ribald meanings great clarity — this is a well-told tale conveyed with physical theater gestures as much as tongue twirls to give the Bard his due.

Like the best Shakespeare productions, the fine cast and direction do seem to translate the Elizabethan tongue to our here and now so well that you too might find your mind hearing lines in the vernacular of today.  Did Prospero just tell his daughter to hey, just get over it?  Did that daughter, Miranda (Deanalis Resto), do the verbal equivalent of a teen eye roll as she said give me a break Dad, he’s only the third male I’ve seen my whole life!?  And does Prospero’s fourth-wall breaking soliloquy at play’s end just say Okey dokey we’re wrapping up the story so get ready to clap…?

Nearly every cast member seems to have a shining moment or more, with perhaps Kevin Theis’ magnetism and mastery of Shakespearean timing always injecting the stage with electricity.

 A flawless production?? – not by this writer’s lights.  Yet--- it’s accessible and LIVE! Oak Park Theatre Festival poignantly reminds us of what we’ve been missing.  Best to go see this ASAP and make an added donation this first weekend, when all donations are matched up to $5K.


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Thru August 21 2021

Thursday-Saturday at 8pm 
Sundays at 7pm


Austin Gardens
167 Forest Ave.
Oak Park, IL


General admission: $35 (student and senior discounts)

Visit the Oak Park Festival Theatre to purchase tickets.



Jeannie Affelder
Belinda Bremner
Dakotah Brown
Tony Buzzuto
Noelle Klyce
Bernell Lassai
Orion Seth Lay-Sleeper
Matt Gall
Savanna Rae
Deanalis Resto
Kevin Theis
Emma Sipora Tyler
Austyn Williamson



Scenic Design: Ryan Fox
Costume Design: Rachel M. Sypniewski
Lighting Design: Liz Cooper
Original Music and Sound Design: George Zahora
Vocal Composer and Music Director: Jennifer Harlee Mitchell
Movement and Dance Choreography: Erica Bittner
Movement, Combat, and Intimacy Direction: Mark Lancaster
Production Stage Manager: Wallace Craig


Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

Photos: Bryan Wakefield, unless otherwise indicated


**Editor’s Note—There ARE improbable floating islands dating back to the time when less aggressive farmers took to boats to escape the Incan armies.  Read the Picture This Post story - - Uros Islands PERU TOUR Review – Floating Villages .



Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.


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20 thoughts on “Oak Park Festival Theatre Presents THE TEMPEST Review — Live At Last!

  1. The artistic associate’s assertion that this was the first live show is Chicago since 2019, which you repeat at the top of this review, is wrong. The theaters didn’t close until March 12, 2020, and there were lots of openings in 2020 before that, as well as shows already running. For example, “Her Honor, Jane Byrne” opened at Lookingglass a few days before the shutdown, as did “Middletown” at the Apollo.

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