Shakespeare’s Pericles, redolent of The Odyssey, is a drama that has the potential to lift one from the depths of despair and believe that trouble will not last always. Shakespeare’s authorship of Pericles is questioned, and it is thought to be coauthored with George Wilkins. Although neither sublime nor witty, it is an essential play within Shakespeare’s cannon. Neither a comedy nor a tragedy, and not a combination of either, or a historical play, Pericles does not fit nicely within genres of other Shakespearean works. Lacking familiarity with the text, when learning last summer that it was going to be staged at the Folger Shakespeare Library (in December 2015), I secured tickets and set my mind to both read and see the play. Recently, I have become committed to a fresh reading of Shakespearean plays prior to seeing each individual performance. It has allowed me to better understand each play when performed as well as recognize which scenes have been edited from the play, and the depth of each of the edits. That performance was engaging; however, knowing that a local production was on the horizon, I anticipated seeing Theater For A New Audience’s (TFANA) production winter of 2016. Trevor Nunn, a Shakespeare aficionado and formerly the director of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and London’s National Theater, currently stages Pericles at TFANA. (I mistakenly booked my ticket for Oscar night, but I am pleased to say that this performance has great diversity). Trevor Nunn has staged all but one of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (he is currently contracted for the performance of two other Shakespeare works). As a comparison between the Folger’s production and TFANA’s production, the costume, the music, and Raphael Nash Thompson’s performance of Gower lift this performance to great heights. The creative team includes: Shaun Davey, the composer, Robert Jones, the scenic designer, Constance Hoffman, the costume designer, and Daniel Kluger, the sound designer. To visually stimulate the senses, at the back of the stage is a huge circle-like structure that opens and closes as various characters enter or exit the stage. This structure was both chimerical and celestial especially at the end when goddess Diana works her mythical powers to bring the play to a beautiful denouement. Gower, however, steals the show from Christian Camargo as Pericles. Singing ebulliently at times and effusively, one can not wait for Gower to reappear after each act. His visage lets us know that he too is enjoying the performance. The Grecian costume design, Gower’s passionate singing (Nunn elected to have Gower sing his lines), and the synchronistic sound design mimicking tempests all catapult this production to a high, leaving the audience connecting to the text, while accomplishing what can be viewed as Shakespeare’s vision of bringing a fable to stage. Although Camargo as Pericles is not this show’s strongest performance, Thompson’s insightful performance brings luminosity to the play. At the end of the performance, however, Camargo ignites his performance resulting in bravo for the entire staging. We, the audience, empathize with Pericles – we feel both his pain and his joy, and the depth of his emotion.
To recap the story arc, Pericles flees Tyre as he fears for his life after discovering the secret to King Atiochus’s riddle. Pericles sets sail while experiencing various tempests at sea while becoming shipwrecked. He is rescued and continues sailing. He later wins Thaisa’s heart and she later becomes his wife, although he is neither stately nor opulently dressed. They soon have a child, Marina (aptly named, for she was born at sea). Subsequently, Pericles believes his wife dies while giving birth, buries her with all the accoutrements she deserves. His wife is later found buried. Feeling ill equipped to rear Marina singly, he requests Cleon and Dionyza, whom Pericles saves from famine, to rear Marina. Unfortunately, Marina is mistreated, is nearly killed, and is almost forced into prostitution through evil machinations. She, however is later rescued. Pericles, meanwhile, sullen and dejected after the supposed loss of both his wife and his daughter, reunites with them, as the goddess Diana mythically applies her celestial powers to bring this play to an uplifting halcyonic end, similar to the mythical bird that charms both the wind and the waves into peace. Nunn, through his direction, transports Pericles to Elysium-like fields on Earth as the play ends with the marriage of Marina and Lysimachus.
Both Gower and the musicians place me on tenterhooks as the feeling of uneasy suspense envelopes me when Gower sings about the perils to follow (especially incest). With great anticipation, one looks forward to both this compelling voice and the accompanying music composition as the story unfolds. At the opening of the performance, stately Gower, surprisingly and deliciously heralds the audience to future events, namely the incestuous relationship of Antiochus with his daughter, and Pericles subsequent flight. Historically, Gower, was both a poet and a contemporary of Chaucer. As a towering presence on stage, he is dressed in loose fitting Grecian garb, further fostering the audience’s transportation to Greece. As the performance continues, my captivation of Gower increases as I realize that his character, however intended, elevates this performance. Both the Grecian garb and his powerful voice compel one to look forward to further singing as the musicians harmoniously play and Marina sings (I heard that she does not really sing, although it appears as such. One of the other characters on stage sings for her as the lights dim).
Grecian clothing brings us to both a time and place in which we can further understand the play’s events. We see Antiochus’s daughter dressed in a completely see through gold shimmering dress (both she and her father are responsible for the incest because she tempts him, but he, being her father, is most culpable), highlighting his unnatural desire for his daughter. Pericles, when downtrodden, wears clothing that deemphasizes his princely stature. Gower dresses in a loose fitting tunic and Marina dresses in long flowing gowns and in white as she marries at the end of the play.
This is a must see performance, as Pericles is not often staged. Both Nina Hellman as Dionyza and Lilly Englert as Marina give noteworthy performances. Bravo for Trevor Nunn and his entire creative team! Pericles will be performed at TFANA until March 27, 2016.