The Tempest Classical Theatre Company's foray into the thickets of William Shakespeare this season is The Tempest, one of the Bard's most popular plays. Shoehorned into the intimate Obsidian Art Space, the opening shipwreck is adroitly staged with strobe lights and thunderous music, and succeeds as drama. The leading role is Prospero (Philip Lehl), exiled Duke of Milan and sorcerer, whose brother Alonso usurped his rule and cast him adrift, to end up with his daughter Miranda on an unpopulated island. Twelve years have passed, and Prospero reveals to Miranda (Jacqui Grady, with a dazzling smile), now 15, her origin. Lehl and director John Johnston have steered Prospero toward sincerity, but I yearned for the glee of Machiavellian guile. The pace picks up when Blair Knowles enters as the sprite Ariel, whom Prospero has freed from enchantment. She is delightful, with soaring movements, vivacious stage presence and costume to match. Dylan Godwin is intoxicating as Stephano, whose antic energy and drunken joy sweep the stage like a whirlwind. Kregg Alan Dailey has the choice role of Caliban, monstrous son of a deceased sorceress, but fails to convey the requisite deformity; he thunders his lines and is awkward in movement — in short, a scene-killer. Meanwhile, the director apparently made the odd decision to have set designer Jodi Bobrovsky create a backdrop from plastic, bottles and broken chairs to echo the debris floating in our oceans. Much of the action is played on the floor, but unless you're seated in the first row, characters disappear from view, blocked by the audience, since the stage is not raised. And director Johnston has opted for the garish in set and costume, rather than for the shadowed mystery of magic. The mission of Classical Theatre Company is "boldly re-envisioning classical drama"; they have succeeded in that. Some brilliant performances and some inventive staging make The Tempest well worth a visit. Through April 29. 3522 White Oak, 713-963-9665. — JJT

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