Commonly interpreted as Shakespeare's farewell to theater, The Tempest is the tale of a magician performing his final and greatest feat. Prospero plans to use skills acquired over a lifetime to put his wrecked world back together. When that's accomplished, he promises, "I'll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound I'll drown my book."
Raymond Joseph Teller understands Prospero in a way that few of us ever will. As the silent half of Penn & Teller, he's spent much of his own lifetime dealing in magic. And he's lately been applying what he's learned to The Tempest, which he's codirecting with Aaron Posner at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The show will have just started previews by the time you read this.
Transplanted from the island refuge of Shakespeare's script to a traveling tent show, this production promises plenty of enchantments. The music is by Tom Waits and his wife/partner Kathleen Brennan; the choreography by the notable shape-shifters of Pilobolus; and Prospero himself will be played by Larry Yando, whose greatest trick has been making audiences love him as unlikable characters. Three cast members share a role designated as "Rough Magic."
But the directors are unlikely to be satisfied with sleight of hand. After all, demystifying illusions is as much a part of the Penn & Teller, um, mystique as creating them. And the same goes for Posner, best known for writing Stupid Fucking Bird—a fourth-wall-crushing satire of Chekhov's The Seagull. What's more, Teller has a serious notion to pursue. In a CST promotional video he remarks, "To me, one of the big subjects in The Tempest is, What would it take to make a magician give up magic?"
9/18-11/8: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 3 and 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM (see website for additional weekday performances), Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.org, $48-$88.