Sunday, April 6, 2008

Review: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

The most exciting part of seeing a rarely produced Shakespeare production is that it is a rare event--although we may see plenty of Hamlets or Macbeths in our lifetime, we will only see a few shows like Pericles, Prince of Tyre. This is a risky proposition: the reason that these plays are less produced is usually because they are simply not as good as their more-produced counterparts. But as New York University's Classical Studio proved this weekend, even the Bard's less brilliant plays can still be excellent productions if they are produced with care.

The pitfall of the script of Pericles is that, though it has an interesting, Shakespearean plot, the language does not have all of the bells and whistles of Hamlet. Yet on the other hand, the sparser, plainer language actually lends itself to being understood easier. Indeed, Director-Choreographer John Farmanesh-Bocca has tackled the production in a way which makes it far more accessible than the average Shakespeare play. The movement pieces are cunningly arranged to break up the play without disturbing the flow, and to illustrate elements of the script which (without the movement) would be too briefly hit upon.

The other support which this production leaned upon was the humor. The script is not a particularly funny script to begin with, but Farmanesh-Bocca teased out a lot of humor in ways that, although not necessarily the original intention, harmonized with the script and made it even better.

The cast was extremely talented in bringing these visions to light. Jabari Brisport, Michael Eisenstein, and Juan Grafton-Delgado, playing the role of the Fates, performed the movement pieces with grace and intensity, and managed to invest themselves in all of the portions of the play which they were silently observing. Terence Stone, as a Bill-Pullman-esque Pericles, was also well-performed, and although sometimes he had trouble keeping up with the boundless enthusiasm of the rest of the cast he usually served as an excellent straight man against a background of exciting and enticing characters.

It is difficult to highlight all of the actors who should be highlighted; suffice it to say that there was not a single performance, from Pericles all the way down to the three prostitutes, which was not performed with a grace, enthusiasm, and delicate handling of language which brought what on the page is a mediocre production into full life.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre was being performed in Rep with a production of Hamlet which I saw last fall and is being performed again, and this production succeeds in every way that I thought that production of Hamlet had fallen short. But the growth and grace of the cast was such that I regret not being able to go back to Hamlet to see if it has become a completely different, effortless production.

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