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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Polonsky Shakespeare Center


  Earl Baker, Jr., Sam Morales, Lilly Englert and Christian Camargo/ Ph: Gerry Goodstein

If you’ve never seen this play before, you’re not alone. The sprawling epic, which spans decades, countries and generations, is rarely performed, perhaps because it’s believed to be only partly by Shakespeare, but more likely because its scope makes it so difficult to stage. That’s true even with the help of the storyteller, Gower (in this production, the imposing Raphael Nash Thompson), who acts as narrator to explain all the many ellipses. Helmed by acclaimed director Trevor Nunn, Theatre for a New Audience’s current production at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn may be your best chance to see this play of princes finally get the royal treatment.
The story starts as the young Pericles (a soberly striking Christian Camargo) seeks a wife. He sails to Antioch, where the reigning king presents a riddle to every potential suitor for his daughter’s hand. Getting it wrong means death. But, as Pericles surmises when he figures out its terrible meaning, so does getting it right. Playing dumb, the practical prince asks for more time and just barely escapes – but realizes that the king’s henchmen are on his trail. Thus begins this action-packed sea-faring fairy-tale adventure about forging a family.
Controlled but charismatic, Camargo capably negotiates the peripatetic prince’s development on his wanderings as he leaves his own kingdom to a trusted friend, saves Tarsus from famine, and wins and weds Thaisa, princess of Persepolis (an appealing Gia Crovatin). Alas, he loses her at sea in a storm less than a year later, though he’s able to keep the daughter she’s just birthed, Marina (played as an adult by Lilly Englert). But unwisely, he leaves his only child to be raised by his allies in Tarsus, only to return 16 years later (unities be damned!) and be told she’s dead. (She’s not. The evil queen of Tarsus tried to have Marina killed, but her murder was interrupted when pirates kidnapped her instead and sold her to a brothel. Seriously.)    
As you may have guessed, this play has more plot than most productions know how to handle. Nunn’s surehanded direction in this, which he says is his first Shakespeare production in the United States, trims and tweaks the play’s somewhat ponderous text, sometimes even turning couplets into song. Irish composer Shaun Davey wrote the evocative score, which does much to unite the play’s disparate elements. (The music’s performed by members of the PigPen Theater Co., who also serve as minor characters in the play.) Although the staging is suggestively sparse, Constance Hoffman’s elaborate costumes bring a stunning element of eye-candy – and strong characterizations – to the production. And dominating the dramatic thrust stage, Robert Jones’ ever-changing circular motif further hints at the unifying vision that’s making sense of this picaresque play.
Even during the drama’s most marked break – when 16 years pass; the action shifts to Marina, trapped in the brothel; and, scholars believe, close to the point at which Shakespeare began writing the text – there’s an emphasis on the repeated themes that keep the action connected. As Marina miraculously talks her way out of the usual brothel duties, we’re reminded of her parents’ smarts – and determination to get their own way – and her unexpected connection with the governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus, has the same fortuitous love-at-first-sight feel as her parents’ almost-instant union. And though Englert’s performance is too stilted to live up to those of her coactors, Marina’s quick wits and stubborn virtue still come through in what are clearly Shakespearean lines.
After all the pandemonium of the two-plus hours preceding, the culminating scenes of rediscovery and reconciliation as Pericles’s long-lost family is finally united are truly moving. The play’s radiant ending, under the guidance of the goddess Diana, is as happily ever after as this romantic journey’s folkloric opening could ever have promised. But for all its joyous reunion, the play – and this effective production—have made it clear what a long, bewildering and often painful voyage it’s taken to get there.


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