Spirits to Enforce

In the heady world of offbeat Chicago playwright Mickle Maher, we visit an acting troupe of 12 trying to raise funds to put on a production of the Bard's final work, The Tempest—what Maher describes as a "metaphysical revenge comedy." Because it was the last play created by "Shake-speare,"1 the play circumscribes the playwright's universe in unique ways that we see nowhere else.

Spirits to Enforce ensemble
Spirits to Enforce ensemble
Performed in the manner of a sophisticated staged reading, but with everyone off book, the actors sit at a long table facing the audience, each with an old-style standard phone and assorted paraphernalia, personal and corporate, while making cold calls and trying to raise funds for their production. In the process of asking for money, some of the characters take a shot at describing the plot line of this classic play, as well as how they see it being staged. LOL! Everyone wants to be a director!

Joan Bruemmer-Holden as Cecily (Prospero)
Joan Bruemmer-Holden as Cecily (Prospero)
Each of the actors summons three personae: a secret identity, a superhero identity, and a character in The Tempest,2 who come and go according to immediate circumstances, which include stage romances, personal issues, metaphysical conversations with those on the other end of the telephone calls, and various heroic/mythic subplots.

While the excellent character work and quirky meshing of real, imagined, and stage personae are entertaining in more ways than we can count, true to the spirit of the inimitable Catamounts there is an anomalistic nature to the beast, which is a catharsis that involves the entire ensemble—something the Greeks and Aristotle never considered: emotional, psychological, and spiritual transformation based on identification with the group, rather than the individual. Maher fascilitates this by noting the symphonic orchestration of the voices in the script, which director Amanda Berg Wilson has conducted with a remarkable hand.

Meridith C. Grundei as Emory (Ariel)
Meridith C. Grundei as Emory (Ariel)
After a roller-coaster ride of heart rendering twists and near total collapse of the telemarketing fund-raising effort, there comes, from the realm of Prospero's magic island, a love story whose fulfillment brings an unraveling of the knots in the hearts of actors, characters, superheroes, and audience alike.

The catharsis begins with Wayne Simon/The Untangler/Caliban (Verl Hite) and quickly spreads:

WAYNE (Caliban)
And I undid that arcane cord of mine and as it loosed and fell to the rock, the audience, and the poor Cannibal as well, did indeed cry and laugh and believe every dread riddle solved.

DONNA (Ensemble)
And all my shadows that had fled in fear returned in that famous scene where Prospero talks of dreams and sleep. They trembled their way over the stage -- the hippo, the mallard, the sloth, the scarab -- all of them, by the hundreds, and poured themselves like black tea into the shape of a disc at Prosperoís feet. And then shrank to a speck and vanished, I assume forever, to wherever frightened shadows vanish to. Thatís all they wanted of our production: an exit.

CECILY (Prospero)
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest, IV, i

Joe Von Bokern as Randall James (Ferdinand)
Joe Von Bokern
as Randall James (Ferdinand)
The recognition of the universal dream in Caliban's heart soon spread to Randell and Susan, whose contentious personal relationship was standing in the way of stage chemistry, and the fulfillment of the romance that reconciles Prospero with his old enemies.

RANDELL (Ferdinand)
The very instant that I saw you, did
My heart fly to your service

SUSAN (Miranda)
I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you,
Nor can imagination form a shape,
Besides yourself, to like of.
Do you love me?

The Tempest, III, i

RANDELL (Ferdinand)
Yeah, I sure do.

EMORY (Ariel)
The crowd loved it.

CRAIG (Antonia)
The Professor was in tears.

EMORY (Ariel)
Sure the crowd loved it. And thatís wonderful.
Personally, I donít feel that Susan and Randell
have a real grasp of the characters or the language
-- but who am I to give opinion? Seeing as my
performance of myself somehow wasnít up to
the standards of a flesh eating mad man.

REBECCA (Gonzalo)
Caliban was in tears.

CECILY (Prospero)
He was in tears. From there on his heart wrapped as ours are in our shared history, in our common loss: The old man. The daughter. The one library. The one island.

Laura Lounge as Susan Tanner (Miranda)
Laura Lounge as Susan Tanner (Miranda)
And with that, antagonisms were dissolved at every level, much as in the original play after MIRANDA and FERDINAND's wedding.

OLIVER (Sebastian)
And if there was ever a show that was well received

CRAIG (Antonia)
ever a show that was fully embraced

REBECCA (Gonzalo)
ever a show that changed hearts

DONNA (Ensemble)
or ever a show that could do no wrong, this was now that show.

What Maher has achieved here is a provoking sequel to The Tempest after the Bard has left the building. He has taken the creature the playwright-as-magician tried to civilize and given him a heart, proving that, as noted critic Harold Bloom said, "Shakespeare invented the human."

The Catamounts presentation of Spirits to Enforce runs through October 17th. For tickets visit or call 303-444-SEAT.

Bob Bows

1 Shake-speare being the pen name of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
2 To this psychological menagerie we would note that there is an additional subtextual persona on whom each of principal characters were based in the real life of the playwright, Edward de Vere. Considering the political climate when it was written, the play is a risqué satire that recounts the Essex Rebellion—an explosive topic considered a crime to dramatize by the Privy Council—as well as a metaphorical recounting of tales involving de Vere (Prospero), his former father-in-law and guardian, William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Gonzalo), his third daughter, Susan (Miranda), and her husband, the earl of Derby (Ferdinand). One of the tall tales that de Vere used to tell of his time in Italy was that he might have been made Duke of Milan if it were not for the intercession of one of Elizabeth's agents. De Vere also bemoaned the civil war in Genoa that never quite broke out. One of his colleagues during his stay there was Prospero Fattinanti, who became the new Duke.

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