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An audience, of course,
cannot believe a word of it, since it is expected to accept multiple wildly implausible,
totally impossible things before the play is out. And yet the play is full of truths about
life, birth, suffering, redemption, and the miracle that is love. And that is exactly as
Shakespeare must have intended it. It is theatre, after all, in which there must be all
sorts of suspensions of disbelief, and Shakespeare was the master writer on the subject of
life, which, anyone undergoing the process must admit is filled with one wildly
implausible, totally impossible thing after another.
The joy of this production is that it is astonishingly good, with a
strong cast and imaginative direction. It is a collaboration of two creative minds,
Shakespeare and adapter/director Jesse Berger, aided by actors who, right down to the
smallest roles, are excellent.
The play, and it is one that many who call themselves lovers of
Shakespeare seem to have avoided reading, has a romantic fairy-tale quality to it, the
implausibility of which is considerably softened by a narrator/story-teller character who
appears and reappears throughout the play, advancing the plot and wryly commenting on it.
It is reassuring to an audience about to go on a theatrical adventure that challenges
credulity at every turn, that this character is played by Raphael Nash Thompson, an actor
of imposing physical presence, richly powerful voice, and subtle skill.
Thompson introduces a story that seems to grow right out of the large,
ornately decorated and seemingly very old book he carries. It is a tale with such
characters as Sailors, Pirates, Dead Princes, Starving Tarsians, Monks, Nuns, and Bawds.
It is part of the considerable strength of this production that the plot, with its
serpentine and outlandish turns, seems always clear in a weirdly surrealistic way. The
audience never, as with some productions of Shakespeare, seems lost. Part of this is the
skilled handling of the language--few lines sail by completely bereft of meaning.
The acting is top notch. Special kudos to Daniel Breaker, who plays
Pericles with panache, emotional depth, and a delightful touch of humor; and to Margot
White who essays two roles, one of which is Marina, daughter to Pericles. White crafts a
character who can believably talk her way out of harm's way when faced with dastardly
villains who want to take her precious virginity. She combines beauty, acting skill, and a
luminescent stage presence that is mesmerizing. Grant Goodman, Alvaro Mendoza, and Wayne
Scott play three fishermen who are supposed to be funny, and contrary to so many
Shakespeare productions with supposedly comic characters, they are actually very funny.
Aysan Celik as Thaisa, Princess of Pentapolis, brings a perfect blend
of exotic beauty and impish humor to a role that, with a lesser actress, could blend into
the scenery. Zachary Knower plays two different Kings, and makes of each of them a
multi-dimensional, fully developed character.
The play moves smoothly from scene to scene, spanning the globe and the
high seas, due to a combination of ingenious settings by Kip Marsh, resourceful lighting
by Peter West, and Jesse Berger's brilliant direction. Greg Pliska's music and sound
design surround the action with an evocative halo of sound, and the costumes by Lora LaVon
and Julia White are simple and inventive. The only wrong note in the production is the
awkward and intrusive use of puppets; they do not appear in the first half of the evening,
but then seem thrust into the story for no good reason, and to no good effect.
New York, May 17, 2003
- Roy Sorrels