july 2016 | volume 145
Sereana Malani & Kamyar Pazandeh. PERICLES, 2016. Photo & Image Design: David Cooper & Emily Cooper
Pericles is one of the late plays of Shakespeare—probably only partially written by him—a romance like The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline, featuring outrageous plots, shipwrecks, miraculous rebirths and reconciliations. It’s not a very good play, hindered by a rambling structure and mostly generic characters. Director Lois Anderson has made significant alterations to the script and given it a stylish production on Bard’s small Howard Family Stage. The result is eminently watchable despite some headshaking Shakespearean moments and a couple of problematic performances.
The plot involves the misadventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre (Kamyar Pazandeh), who vies for the daughter of an incestuous king from whom he has to flee for his life. A storm at sea shipwrecks Pericles on the shores of Pentapolis, where he competes for and wins the hand of Princess Thaisa (Sereana Malani), whose father, King Simonides (Ian Butcher), approves their marriage. Once more at sea, Pericles celebrates the birth of his daughter Marina. But Thaisa dies in childbirth and is thrown overboard. Bereft and heartbroken, Pericles sails to Tharsus, where he leaves his child with its rulers, Cleon (Luc Roderique) and Dionyza (Jeff Gladstone).
In Anderson’s adaptation all this is played in flashback, a tale told in a temple at Ephesus by the priest Cerimon (David Warburton) to a virgin (Luisa Jojic) who has been purchased by the local bawd (Kayla Deorksen) to work as a whore. The virginal young woman soon realizes that she is the grown up Marina, having escaped the clutches—thanks to some timely pirates—of the evil, jealous Dionyza, who has tried to kill her and has told Pericles that his daughter is dead. After talking her way out of being deflowered by governor Lysimachus (Kayvon Kelly), Marina is finally united with her nearly dead father, and more pieces than you can imagine are brought together for the requisite happy ending.
Played in the semi-round on Amir Ofek’s beautiful white Greek temple ruin set, the show looks great. All the flashback characters appear in ghostly off-white, and except for Lysimachus’ unaccountably garish final toga, Carmen Allatore’s period-ish colour costumes provide effective contrasts. Anderson has created some vivid stage effects. She has Cerimon tell parts of his story like a puppet show, using small statuettes and other relics scattered about his temple to stand in for the various characters. Actors with billowing sheets create both their ship and the sea that sinks it. A table transforms into a horse and Princess Thaisa’s male suitors perform a terrific dance. All this is accompanied by Malcolm Dow’s exotic Orientalist soundscape, which would be more effective if it were less omnipresent.
Both onstage for almost the entire show, Cerimon and Marina dominate this Pericles. Jojic’s Marina is definitely the star. Even during the long stretches when she only watches the flashbacks unfold, Jojic is riveting, her facial and body language responsive to every twist in the elaborate plot. Warburton manages to keep Cerimon’s lengthy narration lively and mostly clear, and performs some nice wizardly tricks. Gladstone’s creepy cross-gendered Dionyza is another standout, never crossing over into parody. As the female bawd, by contrast, Deorksen plays too hard for the comedy.
The biggest problem for me is the title character. A difficult role, Pericles ranges from romantic young courtier to broken old man. Pazandeh is too young for the part and lacks the necessary range, barking out his lines in a single register. T.S. Eliot thought that Pericles’ reunion with Marina, whom he has thought long dead, was the most moving recognition scene in Shakespeare. In this performance it’s just another moment.
Bard on the Beach has had mixed success in recent years trying to make something special of Shakespeare’s B-list plays. For what it’s worth, I think this Pericles is much better than the country and western Merry Wives of Windsor currently playing to sold out houses and rave reviews in Bard’s mainstage tent. (See Paul Durras’ enthusiastic review on this page, and my pan of the original 2012 production in our Archive.)
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