Friday, January 22, 2016

Seldom done Shakespeare - Pericles at the Guthrie

front of program - krl
Pericles is a seldom performed Shakespeare (maybe - see note) that is playing at the Guthrie Theater. It is the first production directed by the new Artistic Director of the Guthrie - Joseph Haj. He had previously directed this at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and this production is a done in association with that Festival. The casting was done via the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well so while it is the directorial debut at the Guthrie of Joseph Haj's, I get the sense that it is the same production he directed in Oregon.

And it is a great production worth doing again!! The set is a multi-level set in shades of grey and black. The back of the stage has a cyclorama that is used for projections. There are also clouds set across the top of the cyclorama. When the lights go down, the stage and backdrop are covered in stars. The stars slowly move up to the cyclorama and spread out in circles. At times through out the play, the stars come back in an actual star shape - giving the idea that certain events that take place are fate and written in the stars.

Pericles (Wayne T. Carr) is the story of the Prince of Tyre (not based on the historical Pericles), who decides to try to marry a certain Princess, the daughter of the King of Antioch. To marry her, he must first answer a riddle. However the answer to the riddle speaks to the fact that the King of Antioch is in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. When Pericles realizes that, he also realizes that he can't answer the riddle out loud, nor can he continue living in Antioch without fearing for his life. He leaves via the sea. A storm takes down his ship and he is washed ashore in Pentapolis. Here he is found by fishermen who tell him the King of Pentapolis is holding a tournament for the hand of his daughter. Pericles wins the hand of Thaisa (Brooke Parks), and within a verse or two from Gower (the narrator), time has passed and Thaisa is expecting.

view from bridge - krl
The rest of the story - well, I don't want to give it all away. The story is told in a very episodic manner, with Gower (Armando Duran) telling us where we are in the narrative and whose story line we are going to see next. The play itself starts with "To sing a song that old was sung..." and so there is quite a bit of music by Jack Herrick in this work. Some of the verse is sung, and often there is underscoring to scenes. I found the music and singing to be very good, yet at the same time I thought perhaps it wasn't as necessary. The show is 2 hours and 20 min. long, and while it was very good - I also think the singing extended it longer than it needed to be. That written though, it was very enjoyable. The costumes and set were at the usual Guthrie standards - simple effects to show the ocean, storms, near-drowning, etc. Each actor in the cast was very good. They were all making their Guthrie debuts and it was good to see new faces on the stage, especially some actors of color. The cast was far more mixed than the audience - though there were some school groups which were good to see on a Wed. night.

The play is a comedy. Traditionally this means that no one dies at the end instead of the newer meaning of being a laugh-riot. The play is also one of Shakespeare's Romances so it has some fantastical aspects, including the goddess Diana. This helps provide a great ending that is simply gorgeous and moving. So should you go? Of course!! The quality of work that is done at the Guthrie is incredible, and this comedy is not done that often so you should certainly give it a shot. Personally, I would rather see a "new" Shakespeare than another Hamlet or Midsummer. As good as his plays are to read, they were written for the stage and so they should be seen when possible.

note: according to the notes in the program, there was a prose narrative published in 1608 by George Wilkins. Since Pericles is generally dated around 1607-1608, some scholars believe that Wilkins collaborated with Shakespeare on this work. Others believe that he just drew heavily on the play to write his own version.