Keeping the Shakespeare canon close is a major thrust in western theatre. But artistic directors everywhere struggle to keep it relevant, too. So the Citadel’s Daryl Cloran and show director Josette Bushell-Mingo deserve applause (the ASL way, by waving hands in the air exuberantly) for The Tempest, which debuted Thursday on the Shoctor stage.Beautifully and viscerally produced, this abbreviated version of Shakespeare’s tale of magic and revenge comes to life with the use of a new language, American Sign Language. Six of the 15 cast members are deaf, and use ASL to communicate with each other and the audience. The script was translated into ASL, re-assembled to reduce the sheer number of words and scenes, and made more approachable through a robust physicality. The show clocks in at 90 minutes with no intermission.That is not to say, however, that this version is any easier for audiences unaccustomed to Shakespeare. Getting through the bard can be a battle. But if anything, the gestures, the dance-like movements, and the percussive accents of the sound design make this iteration of The Tempest easier to understand than most.A summary. Prospero (played with charisma by Lorne Cardinal) is forced from Italy by his brother, Antonio (Derek Kwan), and Alonso, the king of Naples. Here, the king of Naples becomes the Queen of Naples, Queen Alonsa (Nadien Chu). Prospero ends up on a ragged boat, which transports him and his young daughter, Miranda, to a near-deserted island. There, they live for 12 years with one of the locals, Caliban (Ray Strachan), acting as a handy, colonial-style servant and with Ariel (Barbara Poggemiller), a spirit who executes Prospero’s magic.One day, Prospero’s enemies, Antonio and Queen Alonsa, and their party are passing by in a boat, on their way from a wedding. The party includes Sebastian (Jarret Cody), the Queen’s son, Ferdinand (Braydon Dowler-Coltman), Trinculo (now, Trincula, played by Elizabeth Morris), Gonzalo (now Gonzala, Denise Read) and Stephano (Troy O’Donnell).With Ariel’s help, Prospero uses magic to conjure a storm, or tempest, destroying the boat. All aboard end up on Prospero’s island, though separated. Miranda runs into Ferdinand, who has been washed ashore. He is the first man she has ever known outside of her father (not a romantic figure) and Caliban (ditto). So naturally, she falls in love with him. (This is a common reaction among young women emerging from the nest. Even today, women fall in love with the first man who is nice to them, proving, once again, why Shakespeare endures.)There are shenanigans, and sword play. Trincula, with her drunken gait, clown-like hair and peals of laughter, is a favourite with the audience. Braydon Dowler-Coltman is excellent as Ferdinand and might consider a second career as a dancer. His body moves with formidable power, agility and grace and he translates with veracity the wild assortment of feelings and reactions thrust upon him by Prospero’s spells. In the end, Prospero learns that using his magic for evil has unpleasant consequences, even for those he loves, and vows to be a better man.The performance abounds with remarkable stagecraft. The ship’s commanding prow thrusts up from the stage, and shortly after the play opens, we see those aboard swaying back and forth in a convincing mime of a rolling ship. When Dowler-Coltman, standing at the bowsprit in a harness suspended from the ceiling, is tossed from the ship, he appears to descend, through lightning and thunder, into the watery abyss, kicking and fighting as one would a terrifying wave. When he washes up onshore after the storm, his body moves like driftwood, rolling in and out gently with the tide. It is mesmerizing.Though on-stage performances are commendable, it is the crew off-stage that deserves particular note. Drew Facey designed the set (there is real rain, in torrents) and costumes, with Bonnie Beecher shedding light on the result. The masque of the wedding of Ferdinand and Miranda was breathtaking in its illumination, with rays of blush and orange spilling into the audience, and making us feel as if we are witness to a new dawn. The flashes of lightning were like strobes, eerily illuminating the movements of the cast.Dave Clarke’s sound design, and his original, percussion-heavy composition for The Tempest, sent vibrations rumbling deep into the bellies of audience members. I tried not to hear the music, and to concentrate on my gut, and wondered about being deaf, and how much the world would present to me if not for my ears.There are many stories to be told in theatre, which is why we love it. The stories about, by and for people who don’t hear are new to the mainstream stage, and most welcome. Far from being a barrier, the ASL and the story-telling techniques (movement, gestures, faces) brought the tale closer, made its message more potent. Even the use of eight versions of Ariel, often to facilitate ASL, was instructive, and seemed to help the actors fully inhabit the words of the script.If I have a problem with The Tempest, it’s because I always find Shakespeare difficult. He’s very talky (I have the same issue with Tom Stoppard) and it drives me nuts.Editors are always telling reporters “show me, don’t tell me” and it’s advice that transcends the newspaper, and the script. It strikes me that any of us with a tale to share, feelings to convey, should remember that that honesty, authenticity, comes not from saying, but from doing. The Citadel and The Tempest under the direction of Josette Bushell-Mingo has done something new, and it goes beyond the stage.The Tempest runs in the Shoctor Theatre until May 12. For ticket information, call 780-425-1820 or go to email@example.comFollow me on Twitter @eatmywordsblog.