Theater Review by: JK Clarke
One would think that a community outreach-based Shakespeare group wouldn’t be likely to mount the seldom-performed and relatively unknown Pericles, Prince of Tyre, but The Public Theatre’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit has done just that. But, nevermind, because the important thing is for this company to reach the students, community groups and even prisoners it has performed for and get them to feel the joy and vitality of live theater, which many of them have never experienced before. It’s quite clear that they were able to do that with this energetic and emotional production of Pericles.
It’s bare bones production: a light blue persian rug and a large table with a book on it, is the set. Music is provided by the actors themselves—harkening the 1990s a cappella group, Rockapella—introducing or accenting each scene with vocal sound effects. The cast manages to hurry through the confusing, less compelling early parts of the play (which have been attributed to a writer other than Shakespeare, so no surprise there). Pericles goes to bid for the hand of the daughter of the incestuous Antichous, who has created a paradoxical riddle for her suitors: those who don’t solve the riddle—which professes Antiochus’ guilt—must die; but Pericles, who does, becomes repulsed and is made a wanted enemy of the state. When Pericles flees, the story becomes more compelling. A shipwreck leaves him on the shore of Pentapolis (demarcated here by happy orange and white garlands and garments), where he wins, in a jousting tournament, the hand of King Simonides’ daughter, Thaisa. They fall most happily in love and have a child, Marina. But, alas, Thaisa appears to have died at sea, so they drop her body in a chest and cast it overboard, only to have it wash up on shore where she is discovered to be still living. Meanwhile, Pericles, grieving, leaves Marina to be raised by a King who is indebted to him. And, like in any good Shakespeare play, after many years of trials, betrayals and tribulations, all three are ultimately reunited.
Despite the storyline being somewhat hard to swallow, Pericles is an entertaining play in the right hands, and these hands are very right. With strong, varied performances in multiple roles, particularly from Flor de Liz Perez as the lovely, Snow White-esque Marina (et al); David Ryan Smith; and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, the play moves quickly and lightly. And, as the sole performer with only one role, Raffi Barsoumian, is a surprisingly complex and gentle Pericles, coming off as a believable, benevolent king and a loving father.
The Mobile Shakespeare Unit production has just finished a successful tour of the boroughs and various community institutions, and has now landed at the Public for a short run through the end of the month. For Shakespeare aficionados trying to complete the canon it’s a rare and pleasing opportunity; but it’s also a great experience, as designed, for someone to get their first taste of the Bard. Kudos to this team, helmed by director Rob Melrose, for bringing this delightful melodrama to so many who never could have seen it otherwise.
Pericles. Through November 30 at The Public Theatre (425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place). www.publictheater.org
Photo: Richard Termine