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A CurtainUp Review
If you think Pericles is a bit raw around the theatrical edges, well, just remember it was the Bard's first experiment with the romance genre. It might lack the polish of his later romances like The Winter'sTale and The Tempest but it's cut from the same dramatic cloth, including incredible coincidences and near supernatural events.
In a nutshell, it recounts the epic journey of Prince Pericles of Tyre, who travels from Antioch, to Tyre, to Tarsus, to Pentapolis, to Mytilene, and straight on to Ephesus. That's right— six geographic locales in the world of this play! And Pericles, like the Biblical Job, will experience a sea of troubles before his fortune changes.
It all begins when he solves the riddle of the killer king Antiochus and escapes sure death by fleeing his royal court. He later suffers the loss of wife and infant daughter, and sinks to utter despair, before finding regeneration through a series of miraculous events.
Although many a director steers clear of this play due to its sprawling story line and the daunting challenge of its multiple geographical settings, Melrose smooths over such difficulties by streamlining the narrative and relying on a young energetic cast and very resourceful creative team. They're not name stars but certainly deliver the Shakespearean goods and do an incredible job of insinuating themselves into the principals and the rest of the dramatis personae with quicksilver timing.
Wilson Chin's minimalist set relies more on the audience's imagination than on special effects or decor. In fact, the major props here include a wooden table on wheels, an antique-styled model ship, a huge sheet to simulate wind and waves, and a blue oriental rug. No fancy costumes but Moria Sine Clinton does wonders with acres of plain cloth that twists into turbans, classic flowing robes, and modern-styled suits to outfit the performers--and smartly fit the dramatic moment.
A lot of post-modern movement and original music (composed by Michael Thurber) punctuates the scenes, with footstools serving as makeshift drums and the stage sometimes morphing into a disco dance floor. If you ever thought Shakespeare was a playwright forever stuck in the 17th century, this lively venture will change your mind and perhaps persuade you that the Bard isn't old hat.
The real value to visiting this Pericles is, however, to remember the roots and founding impulse of the Public Theater that dates back to 1957. Its visionary founder Joseph Papp deeply believed that Shakespeare belonged to the masses and created the Mobile Shakespeare Program that gradually evolved into the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater. This new offshoot, now celebrating its fourth anniversary, embodies Papp's mission for our new millennium. Perhaps it is best summed up in a poignant comment that was included in the program notes, gleaned from a letter written by an audience member at Riker's Island Women's Facility: "You brought light to a dark place."