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By Dorothy Chansky
Theatre for a New Audience
Presented by Theater for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn
Feb. 14-April 10, 2016
Reviewed by Dorothy Chansky
We live in a world of Shakespeare as pop culture, with evidence everywhere from advertising to updated adaptations to burlesques to references in sitcoms. But seeing Theatre for a New Audience’s raucous, delicious, and ultimately very moving “Pericles” is a reminder that Shakepseare’s works were popular culture in their own time.
Pericles Cast Members . Photo by Gerry Goodstein
This infrequently produced romance—or maybe tragicomedy, or maybe epic—features the adventures over a seventeen-year period of its title character, played here with an excellent blend of passion and restraint by Christian Camargo. The tale starts with his bid for a wife and concludes with his reunion with spouse (a different woman, though) and long-lost daughter after hope and youth have dried up. Yes, just as in Winter’s Tale, but minus most of the bile and much of the philosophizing.
Director Trevor Nunn has trimmed the script and makes superb use of Gower, the storyteller charcter, to guide us in Pericles' exploits. The presence of this figure, called Gower and appealingly played by Raphael Nash Thompson, offers assurance that the gazillions of plot twists and new locales will all be explained. Not that this is totally necessary. Compelling characterizations by all the principal players and eye-poppingly gorgeous design (more in a second) make everything not only clear but kind of addictive. As Pericles sails from port to port (escape the bad guys! get out of the tempest! head home to stave off citizen rebellion! go in quest of daughter!) the play takes on the feeling of an adventure series, each episode ending as a cliffhanger.
And it’s a stunningly realized adventure. Constance Hoffman’s costumes give each city’s inhabitants their own identity, all imaginative and none wholly of any real world. Evil King Antiochus (Earl Baker, Jr.) and his sinuous daughter (Sam Morales) sport shimmery, floating robes whose bronze- and copper-colored pleats fan out to suggest snakes’ heads. In Mytelene, where Pericles’ kidnapped and virtuous daughter, Marina (Lilly Englert), is sold into prostitution, the world is pure Disney Turkey, complete with decorative glass lamps that drop from the ceiling (set by Robert Jones) and oversized tapestry pillows (props by Eric Reynolds) on which courtesans lounge.
Raphael Nash Thompson. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Back to that tempest at sea. (Yes, another thing Shakespeare would revisit.) A large circular opening in the center of our visual field opens to reveal a storm-tossed ocean in the form of rippling and tilting fabric. Meanwhile, sailors and passengers try to stay the course of their barque by maneuvering long ropes (these drop from the ceiling, too) on which they swing perilously. What’s so impressive—and fun—is that it’s all very low tech, but under Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting it becomes both scary and magical.
When the uber-depressed Pericles arrives in Mytelene he is unwashed, unshaven, and unwilling to speak, believing that the infant he left sixteen years earlier in the care of the king and queen of Tarsus (Will Swenson and Nina Hellman) has died. Actually, the queen tried to off her via a henchman (Zachary Infante), but there was that pesky kidnapping. . .
The reunion of father and daughter, followed by the reunion with the beautiful wife and mother who did not die in childbirth after all, are rendered touching by means of a few clever mechanisms. One, of course, is the place in the plot. A second is some accompanying music (by Shaun Davey). But ultimately, it is the straightforward and heartfelt playing by Camargo, Englert, and Gia Crovatin as Pericles’ wife, Thaisa, that yielded sniffles in the audience.
Pericles cast-members . Photo by Henry Grossman.
Two supporting players deserve a special shout out. Patrice Johnson Chevannes commands the stage as a forthright, no-nonsense madame of the house into which Marina is sold. Blustery and materialistic? Sure, but a girl has to make a living, and the men surrounding her run the gamut from lazy and selfish to toadying and selfish. Her servant Boult—the toadying one—is played by John Keating, in one of three roles in which he would be totally unrecognizable as the same actor, except for his height, skinniness, and profile.
Of course, you don’t have to like the same things I did. But it’s impossible for me to imagine any playgoer not taking delight in this utterly charming and 100% fun production.
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