Those in the Folger Theater audience who have "The Tempest" memorized may find Joseph Wiseman's sometimes rushed and slurred delivery of Prospero's lines to be no problem. But the role is so pivotal that to be unable to fully follow what is being said is to miss much of the meaning.
A number of lines and passages in "The Tempest" are damnably difficult, but this production is by the theater of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Similar carelessness is found elsewhere in the production. Charles Turner, playing Caliban, changes "pignuts" (groundnuts) to "pigs' nuts." That it was no slip of the tongue was clear from the way Jim Beard, as Stephano, launched a leer from the line. Beard's execution of his drunkard's role was fetchingly broad but correspondingly shallow: The line
I will not take too much for him for instance, came out in a monotone, which had the effect of reversing Shakespeare's meaning that "too much" would be too little to charge for such a marvel as Caliban.
The indistinct or inaccurate deliveries that marred many moments made all the more refreshing the precision of Chip Bolcik as Ferdinand and the life Liane Langland brought to the paper-doll role of Miranda.
Terry Hinz as Sebastian and Gregory Roberts as Antonio had a good deal of trouble on opening night with the subtle lines that develop their plot against Alonzo, unkingly played by Paul Anderson. Of the royal suite only Herb Davis as Gonzalo was persuasive.
The highlights of the evening were Michael Nostrand's sprightly, spirited Ariel and David Cromwell's terrific Trinculo.
Cromwell has specialized in Shakespeare's clowns as well he might, for he has both force and farce in him, and to spare.
Nostrand, required by the confines of the stage to play the "Tempest" in a teacup, swoops and bounds with such vividness it is only afterwards one realizes how much of the freight he has been carrying.
THE TEMPEST -- At the Folger through April 25.