Pericles, Prince of Tyre: Danger, Romance and Humor Delight in Arabian Nights Styled
The episodic plot takes us on sea journeys to the ancient city states of Tyre, Antioch, Tarsus, Pentapolis, Mytilene and Ephesus. These dispersed locales are North Africa, modern day Turkey (3), Lebanon, and the Greek island of Lesbos. Thus, the embellishment of the two longest and most potently theatrical scenes (set in Pentapolis and Mytilene) with colorful Arabian costumes, set decorations and music is as appropriate as it is clever and felicitous. Another felicitous choice of Crowe is to begin the play in the Roman goddess Diana's temple at Ephesus where Diana and a three-woman strong Greek chorus recite the poetic story-setting narration. Throughout the play, the mellifluous, musically blended trio substitutes for Shakespeare's character Gower who is likely modeled after the late poet John Gower who, fictionally, is the storyteller in a preceding, essentially contemporaneous, novel which relates the saga of Pericles. In the text, Diana's only appearance is in a vision to Pericles in the play's penultimate scene, imploring him to go to her temple at Ephesus where this saga ends happily. By including Diana and her temple to the play's opening narration, Crowe provides a framing device which lends resonance to the resolution of Pericles.
This wide-ranging play might be titled The Saga or The Travails of Pericles. While in Antioch to win the hand of Hesperides, King Antiochus' daughter, Pericles discovers that father and daughter are incestuous. Realizing that Antiochus will murder him to protect his secret, Pericles flees home to Tyre. His counselor Helicanus advises Pericles that, because Antiochus is seeking his death (either by war or assassination), Pericles should sail on a far off journey. Bearing food for the famine-stricken Tarsus where he seeks harborage, Pericles is welcomed by Cleon, Tarsus' governor, but, when informed that Antiochus had sent an assassin to Tyre and will likely send another to Tarsus to kill him, Pericles again sets sail.
Tossed about at sea, Pericles, devoid of his possessions, washes up on the shore of Pentapolis where he is rescued by fishermen. Although in poor raiment, Pericles enters the court of its king, Simonides, and enters the jousting tournament where he jousts triumphantly with young lords who are seeking the hand of the king's daughter, Thaisa. She falls deeply in love with Pericles. Despite some misunderstandings, Pericles and Thaisa are wed. Antiochus and her daughter Hesperides are miraculously killed by being struck by fire descended from the sky.
Learning of their deaths and wanting to secure his crown, Pericles, along with the pregnant Thaisa, sails home to Tyre. While again beset by a dangerous storm at sea, Thaisa dies in childbirth and is buried at sea in a coffin. However, the coffin floats to the coast of Ephesus, where a kindly doctor, upon opening the coffin, is able the revive the unconscious but still alive Thaisa. Thaisa thinks that Pericles has been lost at sea and becomes a votress at Diana's temple. Pericles leaves their daughter Marina in Tarsus in the care of Cleon and his wife, Dionyza.
Marina has grown into a sparkling young woman, but Dionyza, jealous of how much Marina outshines Philoten, her own daughter, arranges her murder. However, Marina convinces the servant dispatched to kill her not to do so. He tells Marina to flee, and tells Dionyza that he threw her body into the sea. Marina is captured by pirates and abducted to the island of Mytilene where she is sold to a brothel. Bawd and Pander buy her, expecting to reap a large sum for her virgin favors.
Jon Barker is appropriately steady and restrained as Pericles, the buffeted center of the play without whose dogged steadiness the showier performances would have no anchor. Andrew Criss displays vigor and variety in multiple featured roles of rulers (Antiochus and Simonides) and an exploiter (Pandar). John Hickok's unforced Hesperides convinces us of his honest reliability. Corey Tazmania, Meg Kiley Smith and Amaya Murphy as the production's chorus have to convey an extraordinary amount of information which they do with effortless clarity, smooth poetic phrasing, and a spoken harmony of sound that is striking. Clark Scott Carmichael (Cleon), Jordan Laroya (Lysimachus), Kelsey Burke (Hesperides), Maria Tholl (Thaisa), Kristie Dale Sanders (Bawd), Quinton McCuiston (Boult) and Jensen Austria Olaya (Philoten) make sizable contributions in the noted and additional roles. Jacqueline Antaramian is a rousingly villainous Dionyza. However, having the actress strongly depicting a villainess double in the role of Diana is a distracting misstep.
The scenic design of Brian Ruggaber lends size and classicism to the proceedings by employing huge draperies which are so craggy and stable that they appear to be made of stone or ice. Draperies even serve as tall columns which extend down to a large platform. If not for moments when they flutter as cast members move in close proximity to them, one might never notice that they are not rock solid. His set decoration, which includes a hookah and old-fashioned Arabian lamps, is excellent. Jayoung Yoon's colorful and exotic costumes are apt and often spectacular.
In assessing Rick Sordelet's fight direction, invariably the only question is how very good is it. The answer here is extremely so. Sordelet's work also raises the interest level.
Suffice it to add that this entire review is a Valentine to director Brian B. Crowe and STNJ Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte who are presenting audiences with an outstanding theatrical treat this holiday season.
Pericles continues performances (Evenings: Tuesdays through 12/17, Wednesdays through 12/18, Thursdays and Sundays 7:30 PM/ Fridays and Saturdays 8 PM/ Matinees: Saturdays and Sundays 2 PM) through December 29, 2013 at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue at Lancaster Road, Madison, New Jersey 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600; online: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
Pericles by William Shakespeare/ directed by Brian B. Crowe
THE TEMPLE OF DIANA
PEOPLE OF TYRE
PEOPLE OF ANTIOCH
PEOPLE OF TARSUS
PEOPLE OF PENTAPOLIS
PEOPLE OF MYTILENE
PEOPLE OF EPHESUS
PEOPLE OF THE SEA