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Shakespeare on the Common returns with ‘The Tempest’

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Shakespeare on the  Common returns with ‘The Tempest’
John Douglas Thompson, who plays Prospero, in rehearsals for the CSC production of “The Tempest.” PHOTO: Evgenia Eliseeva

On July 21, the Boston Common will once again come alive with the sounds of live theater. Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC) will stage “The Tempest” to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Free Shakespeare On the Common. Though the journey to get to this show has been long, the production presents a unique opportunity to shape the theater landscape going forward.

Nora Eschenheimer and John Thompson in rehearsal. PHOTO: Evgenia Eliseeva

Celebrated actor John Douglas Thompson will star as Prospero, and the continued relevancy of “The Tempest” is heavy on his mind. “There’s a parallel with the role and what’s going on with our society,” says Thompson. “We’re all coming out of this quarantine due to the pandemic and just starting to go back to the world. It’s a very similar journey for Prospero.”

In the play, Prospero and his daughter Miranda have been living on an enchanted and isolated island for years as Prospero plots revenge on old enemies. As the action spins out of Prospero’s control, he’s forced to face the world outside his jurisdiction. “The Tempest” was originally slated to run in 2020 and was postponed due to pandemic safety guidelines. The year in incubation has only made the production more relatable as Bostonians venture into the new territory of post-pandemic life.

John Douglas Thompson and John Lam in rehearsal. PHOTO: Evgenia Eliseeva

Free Shakespeare On the Common continues to be free, although due to COVID-19 safety guidelines audience members are encouraged to register for a spot in advance on the CSC website. Walk-ups will still be welcome. The production runs through August 8 and features an open-captioning performance on July 31, an audio-description and ASL-interpreted performance on August 1, and a second ASL-interpreted performance on August 6.

One of the charms of the event has always been the outdoor setting, enjoying the humor and heart of Shakespeare under the stars. For “The Tempest,” the outdoor setting is particularly relevant, matching the natural world of the play’s setting.

The Tempest” also presents an opportunity to shape Boston’s post-pandemic theater landscape. “Theater is truly the last thing to come back online,” says Thompson. “I think communities are looking for the impact of the racial reckoning this country is going through.” By starting Boston’s 2021-2022 theater season off with a diverse and inclusive production open to Bostonians from all areas, CSC can set the tone for a more equitable theater industry going forward.

Thompson encourages audience members of color to come and enjoy the show. “Shakespeare is the kind of playwright who offers all of us, from all walks of life, this ability to see and discuss and reflect upon our own humanity,” he says. “You’re going to see yourself represented within the context of the show in significant and profound ways.”