KPBS AIRDATE: September 20, 2002
“Pericles” is an enigma. The play is rarely performed, hard to categorize, and doesn’t appear in the all-important First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, probably because it’s thought not to have been written by The Bard alone. Completed around 1608, it’s been compared to Homer’s “Odyssey,” in which a man is cast adrift in the world and through his experiences comes to know good and evil, love, friendship, kinship, responsibility and most important, himself. Over the course of the play, spanning the decades from youth to late middle age, the fictional Prince Pericles of Tyre expands perception: he learns what it means to live in this capricious world, and he views various versions of the best and worst in basic human relationships: husband and wife, father and daughter, servant and master. Although Shakespeare’s title character bears little resemblance to the historical Pericles, an Athenian statesman and patron of the arts, the play underscores a major philosophy of Greek tragedy and society: the inevitability of Fate. Pericles is, in fact, the first of Shakespeare’s main characters not to try to challenge his destiny. He is buffeted by the seas and winds of fortune; he is acted upon, rather than controlling the action, comparing himself to a tennis ball on a “vast tennis court.” In the end, it is Diana, the virgin goddess, who ends his suffering and provides the happily ever after.
The play is a fairy tale, almost a dream. And the new Globe production, the first “Pericles” ever at the venerable theater, is aptly magical and magnificent. Ralph Funicello’s majestic, marble-columned set, with its marvelous sculptured friezes, serves as backdrop to the subtle little transformations that transport us to a wide range of cultures and locales, from Turkey to North Africa. Behind a stately staircase is the suggestion of the sea: destroyer and facilitator. Linda Cho’s gorgeous costumes help clarify who’s who and who’s where. But it’s the masterful, detailed, wildly imaginative direction of Darko Tresnjak that makes the play sing, and makes the story crisp and clear, as crystalline as the language, skillfully spoken by a talented, chameleon cast.
Ned Schmidtke’s Gower, the narrator of this mythical tale, is wise, white-bearded, Moses-looking, guiding us through the action and moving the story along. At the center of it all is Michael James Reed, an amiable, admirable, lovable Pericles, who deserves his adoring wife and gifted, exquisite daughter, played with poignant beauty by Anna Belknap. Sometimes, even after many perils and peregrinations, the good actually get their just rewards. And the audience is richly rewarded, too — this is simply a glorious production.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS news.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.