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The Montana Shakespeare in the Parks touring company took an audience of 200 on a merry romp Monday night in the first of two free shows this week at North Park.

In the two-hour performance of “The Tempest,” the talented and versatile cast transformed a grove of cottonwood trees into an enchanted island, marred only by the thundering jets overhead. In a surreal setting filled with spirits, haunting music and drunken usurpers, “The Tempest" is a showcase for Shakespeare’s incredible imagination.

The Montana State University company added Japanese gowns and a giant dragon to enhance the play, which in Shakespeare’s time would have featured only traditional English costuming, even though the play was set in Japan.

Susan Felder, a longtime Montana Shakespeare performer, director and noteworthy vocalist, directs “The Tempest" with style. The show’s music helps capture the mystery of the island where Prospero and his daughter are shipwrecked and it adds to the humor of the show.

Prospero, played by Great Falls native Bret Tuomi, is the right Duke of Millaine tormented by his magic and driven by his vengeance to retaliate against those who sent he and his daughter into the sea in a rotten boat a dozen years before the play takes place.

It is he who grandly orchestrates much of the action in the play. The play’s humor comes from Caliban, the savage slave, who is played cleverly by Will Dickerson, a native of Virginia. Dickerson spits out his lines through a twisted mouth, making for a hilarious delivery. He uses a bent back to complete the guise of the missing link – the savage with not quite a half a brain or enough backbone to stand up straight.

He worships a drunken butler and then talks the butler, Stephano, played by Chicago actor Paul Turenne, into trying to overthrow Prospero and take back the island. The subplot helps magnify the sense of madness on the island as two separate groups are afoot in an attempt to usurp one or another of the royals now shipwrecked on the island.

The spirit Ariel, played by Milwaukee native Simon Provan, serves as Prospero’s faithful subject, true to his master to the end. Ekalaka native Lisa Mauch adds a wise and witty perspective to the show as the honest counselor Gonzalo.

Prospero’s daughter Miranda, played by Chicago native Mandy Schnieder, has no memory of any person other than her father. So, as she begins to meet the newcomers on the island, most of whom are trying to murder or usurp somebody, she utters the famous line, “Brave new world that has such people in it."

As the show winds to its chaotic conclusion, Prospero beseeches the audience with, “Let your indulgence set me free.”

The second production by the touring players, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night," will be performed tonight at 7 at North Park. In the event of inclement weather it will be at Petro Theater at Montana State University-Billings.

Jaci Johnson can be reached at 657-1359

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