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Tempest touches down at Tarpon Springs

It's a pity that movie mogul Steven Spielberg wasn't around in 1611 when William Shakespeare produced the magical fantasy The Tempest.

If he had been, he could have given it the full Spielberg treatment: mystical wood sprite, blazing books, rolling thunder, scary creatures, wild storms, a cast of good guys and bad guys _ the works.

Wait a minute. The Avenue Players of Tarpon Springs have all that in their upcoming production of Shakespeare's phantasmagorical tale of magic, betrayal and intrigue, even without Spielberg.

"Oh, we have all kinds of special effects," said Diana Forgione, director of the 5-year-old professional acting troupe. A production staff of 19 helped assure that theatergoers would have several startling stage surprises in the two-hour show.

The Tempest, believed to be Shakespeare's last play, is the story of two sets of brothers and their offspring: Naples' King Alonso and his scheming brother, Sebastian; and Milan's Prospero, who was usurped from his dukedom by his treacherous brother, Antonio.

Twelve years before the play opens, King Alonso conspired with Antonio to overthrow Prospero and make Antonio the duke of Milan. Prospero and his little daughter, Miranda, were shipped off to a lonely island with only a stack of books to keep them company.

The action begins when Prospero uses his magical powers to make a storm bring the whole conniving bunch who betrayed him to the shores of his island. Once there, King Alonso's handsome young son, Ferdinand, falls in love with Miranda, and Alonso's brother, Sebastian, plots with Duke Antonio to kill Alonso so Sebastian can be king of Naples.

Not to worry. The charming sprite Ariel steps in to eavesdrop and deliver messages to the right people to save the day.

But not before there is all kinds of dancing, misunderstandings, horseplay, drunken revelry, and other diversions to entertain the audience in fine Elizabethan fashion.

"This is really a fun play," said Forgione. "Once the cast caught on to the language, they really got into it."

As always with Shakespeare, the audience is, at first, challenged to get into the speech patterns of the Bard's poetry. Fortunately, The Tempest is such a beguiling story _ made simpler by Forgione's judicious editing of long-winded historical references _ that it's relatively easy to get caught up in the action on stage and go with the flow.

Good casting, preparation and coaching by Forgione only make things easier.

Especially interesting to watch during a recent dress rehearsal were Rick Bronson as the evil Antonio, the usurping duke who plots to kill the king, and Melanie Ginnett as the nimble Ariel, perhaps the real heroine of the play. Both are experienced actors familiar to area audiences.

Pasco resident Ernie Jackson, whose stately voice is familiar to Richey Suncoast Theatre audiences, plays the king's counselor, Gonzalo.

Fred Butler, head of the foreign language department at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, plays King Alonso; Tom Bronson, whose stage name is tombronson, plays the swain, Ferdinand; George Miller, a retired English teacher, plays the monstrous servant, Caliban; Olivier Lindemann plays Sebastian; Julianna Serio plays the innocent, love-struck young maid, Miranda; and Douglas Ronk plays Prospero, her doting father.

The Tempest contains some of Shakespeare's best poetry and is often said to be his most quoted play. In fact, some of the fun of watching this production is suddenly hearing phrases and speeches that you've heard all your life.

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