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LETTERS TO EDITOR
by Les Gutman
Shakespeare, one can assume, loved surprises. There are two biggies near the end of Pericles, one of which, as here rendered, is the play's most astonishingly theatrical moment. Having been told of the death of his daughter, Marina (Julyana Soelistyo), a despondent Pericles (Tim Hopper in Act I, Christopher McCann fourteen years later in Act II) sails to Mytilene. There, having been saved by pirates from murder and from prostitution by the local governor (Hopper, again), Marina is called upon to minister to Pericles' broken heart. Of course, as she does so, the two come to learn each other's identities.
In a play which boasts a cavalcade of fantastical events, it is the "realness" of this scene which becomes the payoff. The bond of a father and daughter, it would seem, transcends all. Pericles is filled with far-fetched exotica. When well-executed, it is the simplicity of their relationship that is brought into high relief.
In Bartlett Sher's aggressively spare production, the road leading to it is a bumpy one. The second act (technically, Shakespeare's fourth and fifth) is, in both storytelling and performance, superior. Yes, in the hands of McCann and Soelistyo, it's worth the wait for it to arrive, though not all audience members were willing.
Sher has double (or more) cast most of the actors, including giving us both a younger and older title character. With the exception of Philip Goodwin, who excels equally as Helicanus and Cerimon (and also appears as a Marshal), most of the actors handle their later characters more effectively than the earlier ones. Tim Hopper's Pericles is non-descript and manages to occlude much of the critical meaning the role conveys; yet as Lysimachus, the governor of Mytilene, he is quite fine. Christopher McCann comes into his own as the older Pericles, though his Antiochus makes little impression, and Julyana Soelistyo's Marina outshines most every other performance on stage, subtly achieving what Andrew Weems and Kristine Nielsen (particularly as Simonides and the Bawd of Mytilene, respectively) seek through bombast. As the play's curiously present chorus, Gower, Barbara Wehle is splendidly entertaining throughout.
Christopher Akerlind has designed not only the lighting here, but the sets as well. The latter elements appear minimal -- the huge canvas of the Harvey Theater stage is painted blue, with chartreuse set pieces occasionally added. Yet the production is tricked up with a similarly hued curtain which flies around the stage as if it is some spectre, and a series of glass shards suspended above, which are put to oddly limited use.
Elizabeth Caitlin Ward's costumes are elaborate and, at times, wondrously colorful. Peter John Still adds well-suited music, much of it performed by an upstage string player and sometimes by cast members adding percussion from the theater's original boxes.
Bartlett Sher's staging flows well, and one senses a concerted effort to develop meaningful contexts. Had he been able to coax more nuanced performances from some of the actors early on, the result may well have been exceptional. As it is, the audience is called upon to exercise a bit more patience than one might have hoped.
For links to other Shakespeare plays reviewed, including other productions of Pericles, check out our Shakespeare page
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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