SSC’s Winterfest Offers One Solid and One Weak Production

This review aired on KBAQ January 14, 2013


Southwest Shakespeare Company, Virginia G. Piper Repertory Theater, Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ

A director determines a play’s success and there’s graphic evidence on display in Southwest Shakespeare Company’s Winterfest productions of “The Tempest” and “Hamlet.”  The later, probably the most famous English play, is an engaging and dynamic production with a winning performance by Michael Roush as a stirring and gripping Hamlet.  “The Tempest,” the Bard’s last play written without a collaborator in 1611, is a romantic comedy but the heavy-handed production slogs along eliciting little laughter and instilling no farcical merriment.  A Shakespeare production should be vibrant, engaging, and dynamic, something SSC’s “Hamlet” is but something “The Tempest” is not.

“Hamlet” is not the play’s best production I’ve seen but it moves with purpose and style because director Richard Corley gives it throbbing life that engages the audience in Hamlet’s travails.  Hamlet discovers and exposes his Uncle Claudius’ wicked deeds and exposes that Claudius killed his father, King Hamlet, and then married Hamlet’s mother, the widowed Gertrude.  Hamlet ultimately takes revenge and kills Claudius.  Corley’s “Hamlet” actors recite the play’s dialogue as if they mean and understand it, something not the case with the same actors in Jared Sakren’s clunky “The Tempest” staging that lacks dynamic style and pulsating life.

The SSC’s “Tempest” plods along even though it’s shorter than “Hamlet.”  On “The Tempest’s” opening night, the small audience included many students.  Several adults left at intermission while the students appeared bored.  At “Hamlet,” the next night, there was a capacity crowd and there were few intermission defections.  SSC has been struggling financially this season and we almost lost the company were it not for the now infamous last minute donations.

Production specifics include Rouch’s gripping Hamlet.  He recites dialogue with passion and conviction and he obviously understands what Hamlet thinks and does.  In one brief scene, Rouch’s arrives on stage in the contemporarily set production in a wild, open shirt, acting as if he’s possessed.  It seems an odd interpretation until it becomes clear that this is the actor’s way, early on, of feigning the madness that later supposedly influences him.  A subtle decision that makes audiences notice Rouch’s acting decisions.  Anne Marie Falvey’s complex Gertrude also works in “Hamlet” as does Rusty Ferracane’s shrewdly mad King Claudius.  There are other strong “Hamlet” characterizations although no “Tempest” performance merits special mention.

Southwest Shakespeare Company’s Winterfest continues through January 26 at the Mesa Arts Center.  For tickets, call the Mesa Arts Center box office at 480-644-6500 or order tickets online at


Grade: B

“The Tempest”

Grade: F