BWW Reviews: PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE - Painful Adventures
Pericles, Prince of Tyre is one of the lesser-performed works of Shakespeare, and with good reason. To wit, it’s generally considered to be a collaboration between Shakespeare and George Wilkins (a playwright and tavern-keeper). Loosely based on a story from Confessio Amantis by John Gower (a contemporary of Chaucer), and a later prose adaptation The Pattern of Painful Adventures by Lawrence Twine, the play is an epic (not to say rambling) one. It’s a long and fractured story- from the quality of the writing, most scholars assume that the first two acts were written by Wilkins, and the play was completed by Shakespeare. It doesn’t help that the surviving text is most likely a corrupt one, pieced together from people who saw it or performed in it.
Synopsis: Pericles (Timothy C. Goodwin) is Prince of Tyre. When he fears that the father of a princess he’s courting will kill him for discovering their Chinatown secret, Pericles flees, leaving an advisor named Helicanus (Erin Gilbreth) to run Tyre. He stops in Tarsus and meets the king and queen Cleon (Ross Hewitt) and Dionyza (Cheri Wicks), and solves their current famine for them. He gets a letter from Helicanus that assassins are after him, so Pericles moves on, getting shipwrecked on the coast of Pentapolis, where he competes with other knights for the hand of princess Thaisa (co-director and artistic director Natalie D. Holmes). She gets pregnant and Pericles, hearing of the death of the bad guys, heads home. Alas, there is a storm at sea, Thaisa goes into labor early and dies in childbirth. Superstitious sailors toss her body overboard, where she washes ashore at Ephesus and is revived by a healer named Cerimon (Bryan L. Cohen). Thinking Pericles is dead, she enters a nunnery. Pericles deposits the baby, named Marina, with his old pals Cleon and Dionyza, and heads back to Tyre. 14 years later, Marina (Lily Warpinski) is all grown up and eclipsing the talents of Dionyza’s daughter, so Dionyza tries to have Marina killed by her servant Leonine (Elizabeth Galalis), but before he can do so, Marina is captured by pirates and sold to a brothel in Mytilene. Despite the promptings of the Bawd (Jack Herholdt), Marina is a terrible prostitute, talking to potential clients about virtue, and sending them away praying, keeping her virginity intact. The Bawd’s servant Boult (Tom Wolfson) eventually secures Marina a place with honest women, teaching singing. Meanwhile, Pericles thinks Marina is dead; he is depressed and happens to be anchored off the shore of Myteline, where Lysimachus, the governor (Robert Dyckman), brings Marina to him to cheer him up. They are reunited, Pericles gets a vision from Diana to go pray at her temple in Ephesus, where of course Thaisa has been sequestered and all ends happily. A college friend used to refer to the play as Testicles, Prince of Pain, as the main action of the play is the titular character getting metaphorically kicked in the nuts for about 20 years.
This production goes out of its way to jazz up this odd play. The director/adaptors replace the narrator, named Gower in the script (after the author of Confessio Amantis) with a Story Theater approach, all the actors trading lines in a communal storytelling, when not appearing as characters in a scene. They make use of puppets (designed by Emily Hartford), projections (by Justin West), fitful anachronisms, and amazingly wild and fantastical costumes by Sarah Thea Swafford to make the proceedings more interesting. In fact, all the production elements are of such high technical quality- in addition to those mentioned, the set and lights by Mark Hankla, choreography by Kikau Alvaro (with an amusing nod to West Side Story, with Pericles and Thaisa as Tony and Maria), fight choreography by Sam Laakso, original music by William TN Hall (much of it performed live onstage by the talented cast)- that it’s a shame most of the beginning of the play is boring, and the piece never really recovers. The plot meanders a lot till around Act III, and Pericles being something of a Mary Sue keeps the audience at an emotional distance from him. The play doesn’t seem to know if it’s a comedy, a fairy tale, a romance, a moral parable, a sword-and-sandal epic, or a narrowly-averted tragedy.
There are some solid performances in this production, the women being the main standouts- Holmes, Warpinski, and Wicks. Goodwin is a bit wooden as Pericles, mainly indicating his character’s distress and years of pain by tousling his hair. Herholdt, in addition to being the other co-director of the piece, also turns in a hilarious drag performance as the bawd of the brothel. Dyckman also shows a great command of language in the various roles he plays.