Glorious stage pictures, battles more than make up for silly story
|Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
The first of Shakespeare’s romances (but much less persuasive than Cymbeline or The Winter’s Tale, let alone The Tempest), only the second half of Pericles is by the master himself. (You’ll know it when you hear it.) As a romance, Pericles (not to be confused with the great protector of fifth-century Athens) mandates fairy-tale wishful thinking, little logic to connect the disparate events, and a great gap of time between the work’s two halves. (Time is almost a character in latter-day Shakespeare.) As a drama, it’s unencumbered by the Bard’s usual eloquence or suspenseful storytelling. This picaresque trvelogue from 1607 delivers a train of adventures brought on by adversity, followed by a very effective reunion scene of scattered love ones—the title traveler, his beloved wife Thaisa, and their long-lost daughter Marina (named because she was born—and lost—at sea).
But, precisely because this contrived and convoluted tale exists for the sake of its spectacle, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, always superb at improving lesser Shakespeare, gets a golden chance to create a magical pageant of thrilling doings and justifiably histrionic performances. David H. Bell, a director who turns the most prosaic bombast into sheer enchantment, has a field night with this rollicking saga. This master fills the Courtyard stage with gorgeous stage pictures, tableaux and projections that echo and enhance the crazy chronology of this embattled Prince Pericles of Tyre. Though too old for the part, Stratford Festival stalwart Ben Carlson rises to every dire or delightful occasion and fully justifies an ending “crown’d with joy at last.”
Pericles is sent on his unwanted journey when he discovers the incest between Antioch’s tyrannical king and his too-dutiful daughter. Forced to flee for his life, the once powerful potentate journeys to Tarsus where his ships relieve a famine, then to Pentapolis where he wins the games—and finally the hand—of Thaisa, the king’s daughter. But an inconvenient tempest separates father, mother and daughter. Thaisa, who is given up for dead and at sea, luckily finds succor from a seer of Ephesus. Marina, almost murdered by the jealous wife of the Governor of Tarsus, is captured by pirates and sold to a whorehouse in Mytilene where her invincible virginity almost ruins the business (Shakespeare’s humor reminding us of better efforts). But her industrial-strength purity wins the love of the governor Lysimachus. Meanwhile, a brooding Pericles, crushed by so many losses to treachery and bad luck, finally finds a redemptive reward for his travails—and the family that this unwilling hero never really lost at all.
Shakespeare’s parade of fate’s follies is here just an excuse for Bell’s perfectly pitched imagination, played out on a giant wooden sloping stage like the hull of an upturned boat. We’re treated to a breakout “ancient dance” romp that combines the “hora” with percussive hoofing a la “Stomp,” a full-fledged gladiatorial combat between Thaisa’s many suitors, exotically colored hanging lamps, the sculpting of a wonderful statue in “memory” of Marina, hearty banquets and lovely songs—all much-appreciated diversions from the silly-ass story.
Powerfully pretty in its awesome projections and tumbling or flying scenery, Pericles couldn’t offer the eyes a greater feast. Rich with eye candy, the acting ain’t bad either. Carlson brings clarity to every preposterous plight that Pericles endures, Lisa Berry makes an ardent and devoted Thaisa, and Christina Panfilio’s chirpy Marina proves there’s a divinity that protects the clueless innocence of a born ingénue. Reliable thespians in any role, Kevin Gudahl is magisterial as assorted authority figures and Ross Lehman irrepressible as a panderer, wizard doctor, or common fisherman. Sean Fortunato brings heavy guilt to bad-guy Antiochus (matched in gratuitous wickedness by Lia D. Mortensen’s vengeful Dionyza). Ora Jones is combustibly venal as the bumptious Bawd of Mytilene.
Chicago Shakes’ winter’s tale is as fun to feel as its plot is forgettable to recall. Bell’s glorious stage pictures will stay with you long after the seemingly improvised story evaporates in a mental mist. But right now it’s the hottest thing on a maddeningly-unfinished Navy Pier.
Pericles continues through January 18th at Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm and 8pm, Saturdays 2pm. Tickets are $48-$78, and are available by phone (312-595-5600) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoShakes.com. (Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Liz Lauren
Ben Carlson (Pericles), Dion Johnstone (Helicanus), Cristina Panfilio (Marina), Kevin Gudahl (Simonides), Ross Lehman (Cerimon, Pandar), Sean Fortunato (Antiochus, Lysimachus), Ora Jones (Lychordia, Bawd), Torrey Hanson (Cleon, Escanes), Lia D. Mortensen (Dionyza), Lisa Berry (Thaisa, Diana), Wesley Truman Daniel, Jed Feder, Brian Grey, Ryan Hallahan, Sharriese Y. Hamilton, Emma Ladji, Eliza Palasz, Eric Parks, Marvin Eduardo Quijada, Bri Sudia, Dan Toot, Derrick Trumbly (ensemble)
behind the scenes
David H. Bell (director), Scott Davis (set design), Nan Cibula-Jenkins (costume design), Aaron Rhyne (projections design), Henry Marsh (composer), Ethan Deppe (music director), Jesse Klug (lighting design), James Savage (sound design), Melissa Veal (wig and makeup design), Susan Felder (verse coach), Deborah Acker (stage manager), Calyn P. Swain (asst. stage manager), Wesley Truman Daniel (fight captain, co-movement coordinator), Max Fabian (co-movement coordinator), Liz Lauren (photos)