July 7, 2015

He cuts quite a figure, this sorcerer-duke: the seaweed cape flowing from his shoulders, the ram’s-head staff he carries. But it’s the straw top hat, adorned with a tiny skull and tied festively with dried grass, that makes Ron Cephas Jones’s lonely Prospero look island magnificent. In Classical Theater of Harlem’s “The Tempest,” Hispaniola — the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share — is the place Prospero has ruled by magic since he and his daughter, Miranda, washed up there. All shimmery crags on a bed of deepest blue, the island has spirits in abundance, foremost one tricksy Ariel (a fine Fedna Jacquet), in streaming white and gold (the costumes are by Rachel Dozier-Ezell). Directed by Carl Cofield and staged outdoors on a steeply raked set (designed by the twins Christopher and Justin Swader) at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, this is a beautiful yet uneven production, parts of which just don’t work. But it’s ambitious; studded with bits of French, Spanish and Creole; and enlivened by music and a smattering of dance (choreographed by Byron Easley) that will make you wish for more. What’s good in it — including Mr. Jones’s understated, ultimately moving Prospero and Carl Hendrick Louis’s angry, tenacious Caliban — is enough to make it an energizing experience on a balmy summer night.