Pericles

By Philip Pearce

PACIFIC REP’S new rendition of Pericles is a warm-hearted rambunctious delight.

Which is odd, considering the shortcomings of the script. If you stage Pericles, Prince of Tyre with Elizabethan reverence you’ll come up with a baffling, disjointed bore of a show. The hero, for no very convincing reason, spends most of the play ignoring the politics of his native city while he sails here and there, having one brief melodramatic adventure after another with a succession of Mediterranean big wigs. These sequences lack any significant dramatic link; they’re just What Happens Next. 

That includes events which the playwright repeats, much more successfully, in other plays. There’s an aristocratic girl forced to accept a husband from a lottery of applicants as in The Merchant of Venice. There are a long-lost baby daughter and a dead wife who resurrects in Act V, but less effectively than in The Winter’s Tale.  

A lot of the first half of the play is written in such a clunky style that Shakespeare scholars suspect he jotted down some scene outlines and outsourced them to be filled in with dialogue and action by an available hack named (I’m not kidding) George Wilkins. 

Emerging from the Circle Theatre after Saturday’s opening, I asked myself how PacRep has managed to transform this clutter of discouraging script problems into such a consistently entertaining show.

Well, for starters, director Kenneth Kelleher has assembled a cast of nine actors, each capable of portraying five or six eccentric characters at the flick of a lighting cue as well as singing, dancing and, in most cases, playing a musical instrument or two. 

Kelleher and this tireless ensemble refuse to disguise the fact that most of the first half of Pericles is claptrap. They emphasize it, on the grounds that anything you do with it will probably be an improvement. All the Mediterranean melodrama gets sent up—way up over the top. When nasty King Antiochus (Justin Gordon) is described as having an incestuous relationship with his daughter (Lindsey Schmeltzer) there is no doubt what is going on between the guilty pair behind D Scott McQuiston’s iambic narration. Simonides (Mike Baker) conducts his daughter’s marriage lottery like a TV host introducing nightclub acts. When Pericles (Matthew Reich or Justin Gordon) falls head over heels for the Greek Princess Thaisa (Jennifer Le Blanc) the lovers sail blissfully above the stage on overhanging lamps like wads of change in an old-fashioned department store. The birth of their daughter Marina (also Lindsey Schmeltzer) is a noisy on stage obstetric event. The action just roars and scampers along in loud, visually specific comic strip episodes.  

Kelleher and the cast accompany all the frantic action with explosions of rock or country western music which comment, usually satirically, on what’s happening at that point in the story. 

It’s in the second half of the play that Shakespeare’s text begins to take on some coherence and a bit of authentic emotion. Our hero’s beloved wife dies (apparently) in childbirth. He then chooses, with a singular lack of wisdom, to entrust their surviving infant daughter Marina (an earlier experimental sketch of Miranda in The Tempest?) to the tender care of a couple named Cleon and Dionyza (Ben Muller and River Navalle) who promptly hand the baby on to a hired killer named Leonine (Matthew Reich), whose efforts to murder the child are thwarted when a passing crew of pirates (Justin Gordon, Patrick Andrew Jones and Ben Muller) snatch her from his arms.  Marina grows older and wiser but her perils continue apace. They include capture by the staff of a failing brothel run by McQuiston and Jennifer Le Blanc. Here Marina avoids being ravished when she shames her first and only customer into a return to virtuous life and attitude.  

Everything by now is clearer if not much more believable and, with the mounting tension of Pericles’ loss of a wife and desperate search for a missing daughter, Kelleher and the cast adopt a more sincere and nuanced approach that works nicely. I particularly liked the unexpected pathos of the company joining in a wistful tribute to Pericles by singing the American folk song “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”

The show has that kind of unexpected and exciting shifting of moods. Pericles is a tribute to the magic theatrical talent and imagination can perform on a work that, let’s face it, probably wouldn’t have survived the first half of the seventeenth century if its author hadn’t also written some of the supreme comedies, tragedies and romances of world history. 

Pericles continues through September 22.

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

EUGENE O’NEILL’S A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN opens at the Colligan in Santa Cruz. DAVID CROSBY (pictured above) takes the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. SHAKESPEARE’S PERICLES opens in Carmel. PIANIST CHETAN TIERRA plays a ‘pay what you can’ benefit for Distinguished Artists in Santa Cruz. For links to these and dozens of other live performance events click on our CALENDAR

A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN

EUGENE O’NEILL sequel to A Long Day’s Journey into Night tells a soaring tale about a barren patch of land on a Connecticut farm in 1923 and of two lost souls who hope to find love under a lover’s moon. The boisterous and sharp-tongued Josie Hogan seems destined to live her life alone working a rented farm with her bullying father. When the weary but charming Jamie Tyrone returns to settle the farm’s estate, which was owned by his late mother, sparks fly, hearts open, and desire just might make dreams come true. Moon is a moving exploration of the power of our collective humanity. For Jewel Theatre’s new production at the Colligan, bring a handkerchief or some tissues.

JAMIE BARTON AT ‘LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS’

AMERICAN MEZZO was featured at the 2019 Cabrillo Festival in Kristin Kuster’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg tribute When There are Nine. Ahead of the BBC Proms finale, Sept 14 at the Albert Hall, Fiona Maddocks interviewed Barton, beginning with “You’ve revealed you’ll be wearing the bisexual pride colours of lavender, pink and blue at the Last Night.” Click HERE  

MARIN ALSOP TO CONDUCT LOCKED OUT BSO

THIS SATURDAY, Baltimore Symphony music director Marin Alsop will conduct the locked out orchestra in a free concert to celebrate their city. Click HERE  

THE CROW WE LOVE

MULTI-STYLED SHERYL CROW revuelve los huevos. Click HERE    

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

SEATTLE SYMPHONY AT THE CUTTING EDGE

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN these two CDs of new music could hardly be more extreme. John Luther Adams’ Become Desert is a nearly motionless crescendo-decrescendo that lasts 40 minutes. Marc-André Dalbavie’s four works honor French composers of previous generations—especially the one just ahead of him—with a variety of styles he has assimilated and made his own. For both of these recordings the conductor is Ludovic Morlot whose tenure with the Seattle Symphony came to a close at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Adams prefers to take inspiration from places without people, like oceans, deserts and the tundra. A propos, he is drawn to the poetry of Octavio Paz whom he quotes “you sense that ‘there is no one, not even yourself.’” Like John Cage’s Four minutes, thirty-three seconds, this is existential music, absolutely in the moment. (After winning the 2014 Pulitzer for his Become Ocean, Adams explained that he took its title from a poem by John Cage, written “in tribute to composer Lou Harrison,” one of his mentors.) The existential idea/ideal here is total immersion in the music to the exclusion of all other sensual stimuli. (The philosophy is similarly embraced by high-end audio-video home theater expert Keith Yates of Keith Yates Design Group on behalf of his international clientele.) 

This may seem at odds with the time-honored Western classical tradition that music embraces a temporal journey from a clear beginning to a resolved ending, notwithstanding digressions, tensions and surprises along the way. But that concept was turned on its head when 1960s minimalism paved a new path of numbing repetition. And why not? Richard Wagner’s critique of Italian opera in the 19th century was that life doesn’t stop moving just because an aria puts it on hold. Maybe I’m writing this to an older generation, but JL Adams is not alone among composers and artists who have a more urgent understanding of existential. And in Adams’ case, it is socio-geopolitical, specifically desertification, the conversion of a mutually beneficial environment into a wasteland as accelerated by human activity.

Adams also engages the entire orchestra in his meditation, calling largely on delicate percussion to set the scene in the high register to which, after the swelling orchestra plumbs the depths, he returns. This action demands an extraordinary ability to sustain sonorities and textures over the long haul. (Below, hear the Seattle Symphony in Become Ocean.)

Dalbavie is a protégée of the late Marius Constant and the late Pierre Boulez. This new release begins with a tone poem, La source d’un regard (The Source of a Look), specifically inspired by a large-scale piece by Olivier Messiaen called Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jésus (Twenty looks on the child Jesus), for solo piano. Dalbavie uses a four-note sequence from the Messiaen work to launch his piece that immediately turns attention to harmony, aural textures and instrument color. And what colors! The Seattle Symphony is at once a warm embrace and a cold shower of originality.

Thereafter, the disc serves up the composer’s oboe concerto (symphony solo oboe Mary Lynch), flute concerto (symphony solo flute Demarre McGill) and cello concerto featuring virtuoso Jay Campbell. The oboe and flute concertos outline the three-part classic concerto form. The six-section cello concerto is subtitled “Concerto in the manner of fantasies.” All three of these works are played through without break or pause. They equally demand extraordinary virtuosity from their soloists, from fiendish high-speed bravura to deeply examined expression. And there’s wit woven in as well; the spirit of Poulenc and Milhaud pops up in some of the soloists’ passages.

As these new recordings demonstrate, the Seattle Symphony must go on record as a leading light on behalf of new music, not only as performers but as commissioner funders. It is time for every American symphony orchestra to either unshackle itself from the past, slow or fast, or die. A side note: associate principal clarinet, Emil Khudyev, well known locally and who recently performed a recital at Hidden Valley, played principal clarinet in Dalbavie’s cello concerto. SM

LISTEN TO Adams’ 2014 Pulitzer winning Become Ocean here.

 

THE EXIT INTERVIEW MODEL THAT DOESN’T WORK

ARTI PRASHAR was told to never create a job that no one else could fill. She looks back on 13 years as CEO of Spare Tyre Theatre Company. Click HERE

I SAW HER AGAIN LAST NIGHT

MAMAS AND PAPAS from their second 1966 album, the year before they attended Monterey Pop. (Where did that counterpoint come from?)

 

NEXT WEEK

SANTA CRUZ FOLLIES returns to Civic Auditorium. COMEDIAN KEVIN NEALON at the Rio. THEO CROKER comes to Kuumbwa.

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Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor