Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
“Pericles, Prince of Tyre” at A Noise Within: Playing it like they mean it
Of all of the plays published in editions of Shakespeare’s complete works, “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” has the most tenuous connection with him. Most, though not all scholars believe it to be only about half by Shakespeare – a fact which seems backed up by the comparatively clumsy poetry in certain sections of the work. As a story, it proves the Shakespearean equivalent of a soap opera – rife with coincidence, supposed deaths, and tormented souls which, though not unusual in Elizabethan drama in general, is over the top (or at least overly two dimentional) for the Bard.
For this reason, “Pericles” is not often produced. If a company chooses to take it on, they must play it absolutely straight – a tough task with a storyline so camp. Which brings us to the production currently one of three plays in repertory at A Noise Within, in Pasadena. Here, this episodic and ridiculous tale proves entertaining in part because of the quality of the acting, in part because of a set and vision which take it out of time and work well on an audience’s “imaginary forces”, and in part because it is played absolutely as if it is the best thing the Bard ever wrote.
The tale is of the young king of Tyre, who goes adventuring upon the waves. As a good hero must, he finds a lovely princess he can only win if he solves a riddle. The problem is, when he does it infuriates the asker, who orders him killed. He runs, is shipwrecked, falls for another princess, marries her and then must run again. Another shipwreck, a supposed death in childbirth, a fantastical waterproof burial at sea, a bride on a beach who becomes a temple votress. Our hero parks his newborn baby with a friendly royal in another land. Later, jealousy, a princess in a brothel saving her virginity with noble speech, and after more death threat-driven, salt-laden travels, Pericles reappears and the entire family reunites. Got it?
Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has a penchant for creating a commedia-esque chorus for her Shakespearean productions, and here it works to keep things light and appropriately otherworldly. Combined with Jeanine A. Ringer’s versatile, compartmentalized wall-as-set and Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes – themselves a fantastical whirlwind of eras and styles – the entire piece is allowed a constant, upbeat pacing, and firmly planted in the world of fantasy.
Jason Dechert is, for most of the tale, the consistently honorable, consistently thwarted young Pericles. His earnestness and emotional engagement keep the play moving. As the three central princesses who affect his life, Jules Willcox manages to shift character enough keep the three as specific entities with separate reactions to our hero prince. Guiding us through their various adventures as narrator is the clown-like Gower, given authority and an interesting spin by Deborah Strang.
Jane Macfie gives the combined role of Dionyza (no ruler of her land, instead of the wife of one) a balance of warmth and conniving necessary to put Pericles’ daughter in peril. Michael Stone Forrest has a ball as the warm king of the warm land from which Pericles receives a bride. As the warped old king whose anger threatens our prince, and as the aged Pericles finally home from his wanderings, Thomas Tofel creates two very distinct people – one conniving, and one at the end of his rope.
Supporting them, in a variety of essential but changing roles is a solid ensemble, some becoming singular characters, others acting as crowd and back-up chorus to Gower. Through them this flow which makes the play work moves on fairly seamlessly. And that is the greatest challenge of this work, other than taking it seriously: keeping the audience engaged while the story hops gleefully all over the Mediterranean.
In the end, “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” is still a problematic bit of Shakespeare. However, it’s fun to see it done with such verve and intention. Certainly, it is a challenge to its performers, particularly those who embody many different guises during the course of the story. For a play rarely done, and even more rarely done well, this is a Shakespeare nut’s treat and an education for everyone else.
What: “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” When: in repertory through November 24: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m. Thursday Nov. 7, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, November 24 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd in Pasadena How Much: single tickets from $34 Info: (626) 356-3100 ext 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org