It takes courage to put on a production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. It’s not one of Shakespeare’s better plays, if in fact Shakespeare wrote the play at all. Yet, Obie Award – winning director Mark Wing-Davey turns the play into what he calls an “extravagant theatricality” and what I call a two-hour street party.
Using a shortened version of the play, first-rate acting, creative staging, inventive effects, original joyful music and sound effects, ingenious costumes and sight gags, Pericles becomes a 21st century tumult — amusing and entertaining at times, but with all that talent and imagination, why didn’t they choose a better play?
Pericles, Prince of Tyre describes Pericles’s episodic journeys over many years, His first stop is Antioch, where hopes to marry a princess, but flees to avoid her incestuous relationship with her father. He then sails to Tarsus, where he saves the city from famine. The governor, Dionyza, is deeply indebted to him.
Never one to outstay his welcome, Pericles sails away and into a storm that washes him up on the shores of Pentapolis where he weds the king’s daughter, Thaisa. With his pregnant wife, Pericles sails for home. But guess what? Another storm arises, during which Thaisa appears to die giving birth to her child, Marina. Thaisa’s body is cast overboard.
Because he fears that Marina may not survive the storm, Pericles returns to Tarsus, leaving his precious daughter in the care of the deeply indebted Dionyza. Pericles then departs to rule Tyre.
Marina grows up to be more beautiful than Dionyza’s daughter is. Dionyza, overcome with envy, decides to do away with Marina. The plan is thwarted when pirates kidnap Marina and then sell her to a brothel in Mytilene. Worried that her virtue is ruining their profitability, the brothel rents her out as a tutor to respectable young women. Meanwhile, Pericles returns to Tarsus for his daughter. Dionyza claims that she has died.
In grief, Pericles sails away, wandering to Mytilene where Lysimachus, seeking to cheer him up, brings in Marina. They compare their sad tales and joyfully realize they are father and daughter. Then Pericles in response to a dream, visits a temple in which he finds his wife, Thaisa, and the family is reunited. Happy Ending!
In Wing-Davey’s production, Pericles, ably acted by David Barlow, is portrayed as a noble with kind intentions, yet an innocent victim of the gods. He is buffeted by storms, splattered with water, painted with dirt and generally bounced around. Playing Marina and other ensemble parts, Annapurna Sriram enthralls the audience. James Carpenter, a wonderful actor, plays ensemble roles and two kings. As king of Antioch, he looks regal in a gold-patterned costume worthy of a Klimt painting. Anita Carey, as Gower the narrator, spoke in an accent that I found difficult to understand, but one doesn’t need the narration if one knows the plot.
In a sense, this production is reminiscent of last year’s Berkeley Rep contemporary take on Molière’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself. Both used schtick and slapstick with clever asides, a talented upbeat band, creative staging, ingenious costumes and sight gags. Like The Doctor in Spite of Himself, Pericles was, at times, a bit of fun, but easily forgettable and ultimately disappointing.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre is playing at Berkeley Rep through May 26, 2013.
For information and tickets, visit Berkeley Rep online.
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