Published in Gay and Lesbian Times September 19, 2002
**HIGHLY RECOMMENDED/BEST BET
Some call it Shakespeare’s “Odyssey.” In “Pericles,” the title character spends a long time at sea, journeying to many lands, does battle, is shipwrecked, finds and loses a wife, has and leaves a daughter, grieves inconsolably and winds up back at home. Like Odysseus, Pericles is a man cast adrift in the world, and through his experiences comes to know good and evil, love, friendship, kinship, responsibility and most important, himself.
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 to have been a collaborative effort, not to have been written by The Bard alone. Over the course of the play, spanning the decades from youth to late middle age, the fictional Prince Pericles of Tyre expands his perception: he learns what it means to live in this capricious world, and he is shown 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, 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 terminates 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, a tight, skilled ensemble that changes seemingly effortlessly from high-born to low, monsters to saviors.
As Gower, the narrator of this mythical tale, Ned Schmidtke is a wise, white-bearded, Moses-looking guide who steers us through the action and moves the story along. At the center of it all is Michael James Reed, an amiable, admirable, lovable Pericles, who deserves his adoring wife (Emmelyn Thayer) and gifted, exquisite daughter, played with poignance and intelligence by they lovely Anna Belknap.
This may not be Shakespeare’s most revered play, but it’s is one of the Globe’s most glorious productions, and the brilliant young Tresnjak should be invited back soon, to take us on another magical journey.
“Pericles” runs through October 6, outdoors on the Globe’s Festival Stage in Balboa Park; 619-.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.