BWW Review: IN THIS HOPE: A PERICLES PROJECT at The Welders: A Playwrights' Collective
William Shakespeare's Pericles is the epic saga of a displaced and orphaned young woman, who travels to new and distant lands in search of her father and her place in the world.
Shakespeare's Pericles is the bedrock of Creator Dramaturg Hanna Hessel Ratner and Director Anna Brenner's experimental adaption In This Hope: A Pericles Project. A play within a play, In This Hope contains a semi-stylistically faithful, reduction of Shakespeare's own Pericles.
In addition to Pericles, In This Hope uses a layered combination of personal monologues and hands-on, communal workshops. While this approach is innovative and engaging, it lacks the revelatory twists and turns that audiences find so very captivating.
At relevant moments throughout the production, the all-female, multi-cultural cast (Lida Maria Benson, Rocelyn Frisco, Raghad Makhlouf, and Lori Pitts) slip in and out of character to relay their personal stories and memories of love, loss, and belonging. In doing so, they not only shed light on the power of storytelling, but also the surprising relevancy of Marina's thousands year-old odyssey.
It's relevant to note here that Pericles itself it is not Shakespeare's brainchild. Rather, it is part of our collective, connective heritage can be traced to ancient Greece, and was first translated into English in the 14th century by John Gower, a contemporary of Chaucer.
The emotional resonance of In This Hope relies heavily on the audience and their willingness to share their memories, and reveal their stories and hopes for the future. In This Hope aims to create a community of audience and performers. Traditionally, audience participation in live theater is a tad touch and go, but this cast possesses the charisma to make it work.
The performance space reinforces the experiential vibe at the heart of In This Hope. Spooky Action Theater is a black box theater space in the basement of the Universalist National Memorial Church. It is largely unadorned, and taught wires crisscross the ceiling. The small audience sits in a circle within which the performance takes place. This allows the cast to freely interact with their audience and also reinforces the community vibe Ratner has worked so hard to cultivate.
The performers wear modern black clothing, and deftly twist and tuck white infinity scarfs to fashion clever, minimalist costumes. The thoughtful stage design and lack of props does not allow the audience to draw a line between the past and present.
Hallmarks of the experimental, conceptual theatre experience are audience confusion and boredom. While I would (and The Welders have) definitely class In This Hope in the aforementioned category, I hesitate to brand it boring or confusing. Ratner cleverly and strategically builds in pockets of comic relief wherein the performers address the audience to acknowledge and clarify confusing moments. All the while, Pericles remains a comforting compass at the heart of In This Hope.
Likewise, I did not find any aspect of In This Hope boring. The cast performances are compelling and sincere, and the concept is engaging. In This Hope takes risks, and it is beautiful to watch a performance that is unique to you and your fellow audience members take shape in real time. On the flip side, Ratner and her ambitious team of performers have a lot to say to the world, and I did find the scope of the production is a little overwhelming.
Running Time: 110 minutes with one intermission.
IN THIS HOPE: A PERICLES PROJECT plays through December 2 at Spooky Action Theatre located at 1810 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009. For tickets click here.
Pericles (Raghad Makhlouf) is caught in the sea as created by the ensemble (Lida Maria Benson, Lori Pitts, and Rocelyn Frisco). Photo credit Teresa Castracane Photography.