Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
I say a variety of styles because that is how the play was written. Pericles is one of Shakespeare's later works and was considered experimental in its day, as it incorporates a range of tones, from ribald comedy to lush romance, from searing drama to swaggering adventure. Also, unlike most of the Bard's work, its plot stretches over a broad time frame, taking its title character from the bloom of young adulthood to near the end of his life. Pericles' action occurs in numerous ancient nations perched on the Mediterranean Sea, and the sea is itself among the settings for the play. In total, Pericles has the flavor of a broad epic, a compilation of rambling action peopled by characters that quickly come and go.
Pericles, the Prince of Tyre, ventures forth to pursue the hand of the daughter of Antiochus, King of Antioch, by solving a puzzling riddle that has stymied other suitors. He succeeds, but the result is not what he expected, and Pericles must flee for his life. For the next thirty or so years he journeys on the Mediterranean, landing in such nation states as Tarsus, Pentapolis, and Ephesus and along the way encounters massive storms, rescues a nation from famine, acquires a wife and daughter, loses his wife (in child birth) and daughter (leaving her in the care of a trusted couple who betray him), returns triumphantly to Tyre, turns despondent recluse over his daughter's fate, and in the end, is reunited with both wife and child. The story is also peppered with pirates, a brothel a charming courtship dance, and more.
That's a lot of narrative, with settings changing, characters appearing and disappearing, and events transpiring at such a clip that little of it registers very deeply with either the mind or the hear. What is apparent in this production is Haj's mastery of stage vision, using a minimal set composed of risers that traverse stage left to right, resembling stacks of marble slaps. Hanging above the action is a collection of smoky grey forms resembling clouds of crushed paper. As the action ricochets from place to place, the sky above remains constant, as if to emphasize the connectedness of all this diversity. Projections at the rear stage wall create some of the vivid images, notably a swelling storm at sea, with waves rising to emphasize the dread falling upon those aboard ship with Pericles, and then, threatening to engulf the entire theater. Another storm is created by casting blue fabric across the stage, which takes the shape of wildly rippling waves while Pericles, cast overboard, bobs in and out of sight through slits in ocean surface. The concluding scene, in which long separated loved ones are reunited, is presided over by the goddess Diana, chillingly still, powder-white goddess and floating on a platform above the proceedings, creating a tableau that will not be soon forgotten.
Haj also demonstrates mastery over intimate scenes, such as the gentle ministrations of a doctor over Thaisa, the wife of Pericles' thought to be dead, but brought out of her coma and back to life, and the gentle courtship between Marina, grown daughter of Pericles, and her suitor, Lysimachus, who she has turned from vice to virtue. Likewise, Haj shows skill at broad comedy, such as the antics at the brothel between the Bawd (madam, played in drag) and the Pandar (bother owner), and the good-humored manner in which King Simonides feigns opposition to his daughter Thaisa's marriage to Pericles.
Music is a significant element of Haj's Pericles as well. The play begins and ends with Gower, a kind of one-man Greek chorus, setting up the opening and tying up the loose ends at the close. Played by Armando Duran with a clear, rich voice, these musical bookends provide balance to the show. There is much music throughout, mostly in a folk-music vein, composed by Jack Herrick and presided over by keyboardist (also flautist and accordionist) Darcy Danielson, with portions of text set to music as well as musical backgrounds giving the play a visceral sound-scape. Danielson is frequently joined by other members of the cast who play various instruments while not holding forth on stage.
As stated, the fast-paced nature of Pericles makes it difficult to focus on many of the specific performances, especially as most of the actors are double or triple cast. Wayne T. Carr as Pericles, does a yeoman's job of bearing the ups and downs of this virtuous hero, whether projecting exuberance, despair, righteousness or contentment. Jennie Greenberry, as Marina, makes a striking impression, firmly resisting her captors' demands that she submit to prostitution, with presence enough to turn would-be clients from debauchery to self-examination. Jeffrey Blair Cornell scores a triple-play as the sinister Antiochus, giddy and good-hearted King Simonides, and the blustery brothel owner, Pandar. Emily Serdahl amazes by remaining totally stock still as the floating goddess Diana for the duration of a lengthy scene.
The design and technical work is all top grade. The colorful, and well-detailed costumes in each locale where Pericles lands have their own unique style, so that we have the sense of this being a land unknown to our traveling hero. The light design provides atmosphere for the wide array of settings and moods throughout the story. The video design is especially well conceived as a major element in bringing this production fully to life.
Having the opportunity to see the rarely performed Pericles is a grand treat. At the same time, having seen it, the reasons it is rarely seen, certainly compared to other work by Shakespeare, are readily apparent. In both tone and character development it is a pale cousin to other works, lacking the wit of his best comedies and the emotional pull of his best romance plays. But the Guthrie has brought us a visually brilliant production, with lovely musical elements and a momentum that keeps the audience engaged at every moment.
And, of course, it gives us an introduction to the work of the Guthrie's new artistic leader, a sampling of what we can expect as Joseph Haj makes his mark upon our region's largest and best known theater company. We will have our first look at his directorial hand in a brand new production when he shepherds South Pacific onto the Guthrie stage this summer.
Pericles continues at the Guthrie Theater's Wurtele Thrust Stage through February 21, 2016. 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN, 55115. Tickets are $15.00 to $74.00. Seniors (62+), College Students (with ID), and Children's (12 17) discounts available. Public Rush line for unsold seats 15 30 minutes before performance, $15.00 -$30,00, cash or check only. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or go to GuthrieTheater.org.
Writer: William Shakespeare; Director: Joseph Haj; Music and Lyrics, Musical Director: Jack Herrick; Set Design: Jan Chambers; Costume Design: Raquel Barreto; Lighting Design: Rui Rita; Sound Design: Amadon Jaeger; Video Design: Francesca Talenti; Voice and Text Director: Lucinda Holshue; Movement Director: Sarah Lozoff; Fight Director: U. Jonathan Toppo; Stage Manager: Gwen Turos; Assistant Stage Manager: Justin Hossle; Assistant Director: Addie Gorlin; Casting Director - Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Joy Dickson; Design Assistants: Lisa Jones (costumes), Ryan Connealy (lighting), Reid Rejsa (sound), Own Moldow (video)
Cast: Barzin Akhavan (Cleon, Cerimon, Pirate), Wayne T. Carr (Pericles), Jeffrey Blair Cornell (Antiochus/Simonides/Pandar), Armando Duran (Gower), Michael Gabriel Goodfriend (Lysimachus, Lord), Jennie Greenberry (Marina, Antiochus' Daughter), Michael J. Hume (Helicanus, Bawd, Fisherman), Cedric Lamar (Lord, Fisherman, Leonine), Brooke Parks (Thaisa, Dionyza), Zlato Rizziolli (Lord of Tyre, Sailor), Emily Serdahl (Lady, Lychorida, Diana), U. Jonathan Toppo (Thaliard, Boult, Fisherman), Samuel L. Wick (Sailor, Pirate).
Musician: Darcy Danielson