‘Pericles’ at Berkeley Rep: An extravagant theatricality

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David Barlow and James Patrick Nelson star in Mark Wing-Davey’s production of ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’ at Berkeley Rep. Photo: mellopix.com

It takes courage to put on a production of Pericles, Prince of TyreIt’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.

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Evan Zes, Annapurna Sriram and Rami Margron in ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre.’ Photo: mellopix.com

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.

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David Barlow, Jessica Kitchens and James Carpenter in ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre.’
Photo: mellopix.com

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.

Related:
Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart coming to Berkeley Rep [04.23.13]

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  • Jeffrey White

    Like many of my friends, I saw “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.” We thought it was funny and certainly enjoyable and memorable…I have also seen “Pericles.” Given the difficult nature of the of the play, I thought “Pericles” was acceptable, but just barely. Some of the staging for “Pericles” was interesting. However, if the Berkeley Rep wanted to do a Shakespearian play, I think they could have opted to produce any number of much better plays than “Pericles.”

  • Crispin Elsted

    I am bemused by people who think ‘Pericles’ a weak play. Certainly it
    is not on a par with ‘Twelfth Night’ or ‘The Winter’s Tale’, but it has
    plenty of action, an interesting central character, four fine parts for
    women — especially Marina’s, if the text is restored from Wilkins’
    novel of a year later — and in the reconciliation scene with Pericles
    and Marina it contains one of the most beautiful passages in the entire canon, and a
    real test for actors. Of course if it is ‘guyed’, as unfortunately it often is, it will simply seem ridiculous; played straight, it can leave not a dry eye in the house. A ‘performance’ accessible on You Tube in which the whole play is systematically lampooned is a sad commentary on what can happen when such a play is subjected to ignorance and tastelessness.

    It’s true that ‘Pericles’ is not infused with the irony
    and bitterness which seem these days to be sine qua non for ‘good’
    theatre: it has a heart, some stunning verse (much of which may have
    been cut if the play was significantly shortened), and a story line
    which Dickens might have been proud of (although of course Dickens is
    rather sneered at today as well). Certainly it can never be described as dull. And anyone who has seen or been involved in a responsible production of the play will tell you that actors and audiences, with very few exceptions, love it.

    One point also needs to be
    made. ‘Pericles’ is often cut by directors who don’t trust the text.
    That is a serious mistake. If the play is to work, it needs to be
    believed in and performed uncut, notably with the passages in the brothel scene
    with Marina and Lysimachus restored. Anyone interested in a discussion
    of the text might have a look at my notes on the limited edition
    published at Barbarian Press in 2011. The book is unfortunately out of
    print, but there is a copy at the Stanford Library in Special
    Collections. If anyone is seriously interested, I should be glad to
    correspond. It is a play I believe in deeply.

    Crispin Elsted

    Crispin Elsted