Pericles, one of Shakespeare’s most underperformed play, was highly favored during his lifetime. Arguably written in concert with George Wilkins, Pericles does not fit neatly into any of the categories traditionally reserved for Shakespeare’s work. Having elements of romantic comedy, it seemingly also has elements of tragedy that do not end in any character’s demise (other than Antiochus and his daughter). Currently, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, at the Folger Theater, is performing Pericles. Wayne T. Carr plays Pericles, Armando Duran plays Gower, Jennie Greenberry plays both Marina and Antiochus’s daughter, and Brooke Parks plays both Thaisa and Dionyza. Directed by Joseph Haj with a strong creative team, Pericles is brilliantly staged using video projections, lyrically composed Shakespearean sonnets, instrumental music, and great acting performances.
Gower, whose name comes from a fourteenth century poet, (John Gower was both a contemporary and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. Gower’s original writing provides the concept for this story) narrates using iambic tetrameter, giving us the play’s backstory and other relevant details that otherwise would leave the story unclear. Thematically, Pericles is the story of both love and loss via tempests tossed. Solving Antiochus’s riddle (Antiochus commits incest, Pericles discovers it, and Antiochus fearful of his sin’s exposure, orders Pericles’s death), Pericles fears for his life. Multiple times, while becoming shipwrecked at sea, Pericles experiences what he believes to be both loss of family and loss of love. During one of his shipwrecked voyages, he marries the lovely Thaisa. Alas, Pericles buries Thaisa with jewels and spices, believing she is dead; however, gentlemen find her coffin tossed on shore; Cerimon opens it, realizes that she breathes and restores her to life and to her high position. Pericles and Thaisa’s daughter, Marina, aptly named, is given to Cleon and Dionyza, the couple whom Pericles helped during his first shipwrecked voyage. Mistreated, pirates rescue Marina as a hit man nearly kills her. Pericles’s despondency overtakes him as he separates himself from society. Marina fights for survival and devastation encompasses Pericles.The loss of both Thaisa’s only love and her only child devastates her as well. Marina, unknowingly meets Pericles, discovers that he is her father and arouses him from years of despair. Thaisa, through the goddess Diana’s (goddess of childbirth and women) mythical powers, meets Pericles. At the close of the play, the family unites with an “Odyssey like” ending as Pericles requires proof that Marina is his lost daughter and that Thaisa is his lost, but now found wife. Family, once lost via tempest tossed, is now regained. Despair is lifted and happiness is restored.
Haj, the director, uses video imaging to create scenes on land and on shore. Creating a lifelike tempest is not easy. Through video projections, sound design, and fabric, Haj creates a credible tempest. We see Pericles tossed to and fro at sea as the storm’s intensity increases. Brilliantly staged storms rage as the sea billows toss Pericles from sea to shore. Pericles fights for survival through intense fabric waving mimicking a storm, swimming his way toward shore. We hear the sea roar and the sky crackle in the night. The multimedia sets the stage for acting intensity. Celestial imaging canvasses the walls and colorful imagery at the resolution of the play projects elation at the family’s reunion.
Interpretive songs and Shakespeare’s sonnets melodiously sung usher the audience into the story. Lyrically written, the music allows us to empathize with the characters. The play’s first two lines, “To sing a song that old was sung, /From ashes ancient Gower is come,” orients us toward the play’s musical elements. Before the acting of the first line, musicians play with flutes and accordions as the actors sing. At the onset of the play, the audience may believe that this play has become a musical because the music takes center stage.
Giving depth of emotion, Wayne T. Carr, Jennie Greenberry, and Brooke Parks all deliver note worthy performances. Greenberry and Parks both play multiple roles throughout the play. Carr has a range of displayed emotions from happiness to total despair. We see him fight for survival physically and dismay at the loss of both family and love. Thaisa, via Parks, with great chemistry shows her love for Pericles. She moves with grace as she gestures to show her enamour toward him. Her performance, superbly acted, left me wanting more. Her range of acting is demonstrated as she plays, Dionyza, the woman who orders Marina’s death. Greenberry, playing both Marina and Antiochus’s daughter, saunters sexually across the stage as she plays Antiochus’s daughter with the riddle’s words tattooed on her back as she seductively in quietness allows us to see how she seduced Antiochus. As Marina, Greenberry allows us to see that childlike woman who desires both her parents’care and attention.
Greek costumes orient us to time and place. In the first scene of the play, Raquel Barreto, the costume designer, dresses Antiochus’s daughter in a long dress with the entire back exposed down to the small of her back. The only thing covering her back is a tattoo adding a contemporary nuance to the text. Next, we see the male characters wearing togas and jewels that highlight their social status. The pirates dress for the sea and the women wear sleek dresses and gowns that also accentuate their social hierarchy. Marina’s clothing, aquamarine colored, matches her name , giving further intensity to her character development. Pericles’s appearance changes through the graying of his hair and through the lack of stylish clothing as he despairs. Thaisa, through her flowing white gown, shows her purity, even when her relationship with her husband is severed for years, but ultimately restored.
I highly recommend this play. Because of its Odyssey and Tempest thematic strains, it is enjoyable. It has elements of romance, comedy, and tragedy that untimately end with reconciliation. It’s a great introductory Shakespearean play for students to read and perform that will whet their appetites. Perhaps in years to come, it may fall back into favor.