BWW Review: THE ADVENTURES OF PERICLES Serves a Feast for the Senses at Orlando Shakespeare Theater
It isn't often that an experience touches the complete range of emotions that we are capable of feeling as human beings. We buy a ticket for a show and think we might laugh at a comedy, shed a few tears in a drama or perhaps fall in love with a romance. But, is it possible to thoroughly feel all of these emotions from the same show? THE ADVENTURES OF PERICLES indeed makes this joyride of sensation possible and seamlessly entranced a willing audience at Orlando Shakespeare on opening night.
Ellen McLaughlin's translated/adapted version of PERICLES is being presented in partnership with Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "Play on! 36 Playwrights Translate Shakespeare Project." While I entered the theater on Friday with some skepticism, I exited with a smirk and a new perspective. It worked. PERICLES is not one of Shakespeare's more commonly produced shows. It is set in many different locations and takes place over more than a decade, thus making it the ideal guinea pig for a translated production. Don't be frightened with the numerous characters and lengthy synopsis typically provided for this show. The underlying plot is easily understood: Prince Pericles sets sail on an escape mission, is shipwrecked a couple of times, falls in love with his wife, Thaisa, has a child, Marina, proceeds to lose his wife, his child and his mind, and then slowly finds his way back to all of them.
I did not experience a "you had me at hello" moment with the modern translation... it was more akin to a blossoming romance. I wasn't sold during the first few scenes and found a couple of references during the play (e.g., flapjacks and the effects of depression on one's complexion) a bit too alien. What I immensely enjoyed, however, was the obvious additional level of audience comprehension and engagement. With the slightly less formal text, philosophical questions, like how a supposed "heaven" could allow unthinkable acts such as incest, are more easily brought forward for consideration.
The set by Kat Conley deserves its own review, but suffice it to say that each colorful scene melts into the next. The rich and majestic hues are dripping with life. The use of different levels of staging adds a nice touch to the immersive audience experience. The choreography in the dance numbers is stunning throughout, thanks to Austin Ryan Hunt. It perfectly compliments the Ancient Greek themed music with impeccable sound design by Britt Sandusky. The radiant costumes (especially Bawd's and Dionyza's attire), by Lisa Zinni, are bold and gorgeous as well.
Orlando Shakespeare's Artistic Director, Jim Helsinger, directs this production. He intertwines abundant comedy throughout the show, but doesn't drown us in it. He allows space for the romance and father/daughter connection to shine through as driving forces. The balance is superb. A couple of my favorite choices from Helsinger include his perfectly timed audience interaction as well as his controlled slow motion sequences.
John P. Keller plays the title role of Pericles. Perhaps it is intentional, but his first couple of scenes start out distant... I struggled to feel a connection. But, as his love for Thaisa develops so does his engagement with the story and the audience. He is vulnerable and soft and progresses into a man genuinely broken by his profound losses. As he suffers through his grief and strives to regain sanity in Act II, Keller finds these subtle, quiet moments to be still, breathe and let the character work through him naturally.
Dameka Hayes lights up the stage with grace and beauty again, this time as Pericles' wife, Thaisa. She delivers the role with intoxicating charm and locks eyes with Keller in moments throughout the show that left me blushing. Gracie Winchester takes on the part of the virtuous daughter, Marina. Altruistic characters with a tendency to be too perfect can be just plain annoying, but Winchester manages to delight with a compelling sweetness. She makes excellent choices in her delivery and my prior legal career left me very impressed with her astute and persuasive monologues. I do believe she could win over any jury.
Richard B. Watson, who gave us the savage Caliban in THE TEMPEST (playing in repertory with PERICLES), shows striking versatility as Helicanus, the noble counselor to Pericles. His earnest line delivery is splendidly spontaneous and never sounds rehearsed.
The comedic tempo throughout the show is right on, due to both direction and audience favorite, Brad DePlanche. He has everyone in tears of laughter once again as the aloof Boult of the brothel. DePlanche has this indescribable way with words and can successfully spin any subject into humor.
The conniving and treacherous pair, Dionyza and Cleon, are played by Jennifer Bonner and Paul Bernardo. Bonner is deliciously cruel and Bernardo shows exhausted torment as he supports his vicious wife. Lisa Wolpe gives an exuberant performance as our Madam of the brothel, Bawd. She nicely balances her forceful nature with charisma. Stephen Lima as Lysimachus and Joe Vincent as Gower/Cerimon are impactful additions to the strong cast with their sincere portrayals.
Finally, Greg Thornton delivers an explosive standout performance as Simonides, father of Thaisa. All at once vivacious, cunning, tenderhearted and hilarious; he shows a deep and unrelenting commitment to his character. He is powerful on stage, especially in the scene of bringing together Thaisa and Pericles, and I felt fortunate to be a witness to his craft. During intermission, an audience member behind me whispered, "he's just perfect" and I couldn't agree more.
The entire show carries an underlying magnetizing energy... the pixie dust of the stage. There is an exceptional wave/shipwreck scene during Act I with clever special effects that left me feeling like a stone tossed around in the ocean. It was a unique and memorable moment where the relationship between sound, lighting, props and acting is so extraordinary that it evoked spontaneous applause from the audience.
THE ADVENTURES OF PERICLES presents a rare opportunity to experience a modern translation of Shakespeare and you don't want to miss it. Even if (or perhaps, especially if) you are on the fence with Shakespeare's style, take a chance and go see this show. Visit www.orlandoshakes.org to get your tickets to PERICLES, which is playing in repertory with THE TEMPEST until March 26 in the Margeson Theater at Orlando Shakespeare.
Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo | Orlando Shakespeare