Sunday, December 8, 2013


vcm_s_kf_m160_120x160By Ruth Ross

If you've had your fill of sugar plum fairies and Scrooge but still need a holiday extravaganza "fix," head on over to The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison where Pericles, a little-known, rarely performed bit of Shakespearean "fluff" is being performed in great style.

STNJ_Pericles_IMG_5501Written in 1608—not entirely by the Bard—Pericles belongs to the amorphous genre of drama called a "romance," noted for fantastical aspects such as a shipwreck (The Tempest), a dead woman brought back to life (A Winter's Tale), a virgin threatened with deflowering (Measure for Measure), a goddess stepping in to affect the human action (right, Diana and the Chorus) and a long-lost child. The play's episodic nature makes the plot line wander a bit, but Director Brian Crowe has skillfully made cuts to bring the play to a close in just over two hours.

The plot is set in motion when Pericles  discovers, much to his dismay, that his fiancée has committed incest with her father, the king of Antioch. Threatened with death if he reveals the secret, Pericles flees his home city of Tyre, leaving the reins of government in the hands of the trusted Helicanus, to set out on a journey that takes him to Tarsus, Pentapolis, Mytelene and Ephesus (all cities in Asia Minor). He fights for and wins the hand of the lovely STNJ_Pericles_IMG_6462Thaisa, loses her to childbirth en route by sea to Tyre, gives his infant daughter Marina to the king of Tarsus to raise, grieves when he learns of her death and eventually finds her in a brothel managing to preserve her virginity. Thaisa, magically restored to life by a blind seer in Ephesus (left), is reunited with her husband and daughter. The play ends with Marina's wedding,  as the Chorus intones, "New joy await on you. Here our play has ending."

Shakespeare's hand is missing in the first half of Pericles: The verse rhymes, the characters are two dimensional, the tone bombastic. But when Shakespeare takes over in the second half, his "voice" is evident in Pericles' eloquent invocation to Neptune to spare his ship, the deliciously low-class brothel scenes and the touching recognition scene involving Pericles and Marina. Now, that is poetry!

The actors in The Globe would have performed Pericles in Elizabethan dress, but director Crowe and his costume designer Jayoung Yoon have a veritable field day with all kinds of exotic Middle Eastern dress: Egyptian-looking head scarves, a huge turquoise turban, bright colors, filmy fabrics—all of which contrast with the somber grays and blacks worn by the Tyreans.

STNJ_Pericles_IMG_6789As he did in Tovarich, Jon Barker as Pericles (right, learning of his daughter’s untimely death) commands our attention whenever he's onstage. He manages to infuse the essentially cardboard character with sympathy and humanity. His farewell to his recently dead bride is heart-breaking. His sword-fighting skills are once again on display, but his metamorphosis from dashing young king to grieving father is most astounding. The similar transformation of Lindsey Kyler as his daughter Marina, the other main character, from naive virgin to fiercely defiance young woman at the brothel, makes us want to cheer her—a feisty acolyte of the virgin goddess Diana, indeed!

STNJ_Pericles_IMG_6543Most of the other court scenes involve colorfully dressed, swirling assemblages of personages so interchangeable that the same actors play different roles at the various venues. Jacqueline Antaramian is a statue-like Diana, but her portrayal of the jealous queen Dionyza (left, with Marina) of Pentapolis is chilling. Maria Tholl as Thaisa is lovely to look at and very sweet, but as written the character doesn't have much depth. Tholl does well with what she has.

John Hickok provides excellent support as the dignified Helicanus and has great fun as the earthy fisherman who discovers a shipwrecked Pericles washed up on the shore of Pentapolis and takes him to the court to vie for the hand of Thaisa. Jon Sprik, as Leonine, charged with murdering Marina, ably conveys his dismay at having to rub out such a fetching creature; Quentin McCuistan is hilarious as Boult, servant to the brothel Bawd, out to get as much money as he can for Marina’s virginity and physically letting her know what awaits her. Clark Scott Carmichael and Andrew Criss play multiple roles as rulers; the latter has a fine time as an incestuous father, a Middle Eastern potentate and a pimp, one right after another! The brothel scenes are the most realistically written and performed, especially by Kristie Dale Sanders as the earthy, pragmatic Bawd. Her keen observations of men's sexual appetites are hilarious.

Director Crowe has split the original Chorus role into three, with Corey Tazmania, Meg Kiley Smith and Amaya Murphy sharing the narration needed to bridge the gaps between episodes and signal the intervention of the divine. The change is for the better: in the original, the Chorus was a medieval male poet named John Gower; here the three actresses are easy on the eyes and ears, and provide a link to the goddess Diana.

STNJ_Pericles_IMG_6006Sound designer Karin Graybash is to be commended for the music at the Pentapolis court and the storm sounds; Andrew Hungerford's lighting adds to the otherworldly atmosphere and Rick Sordelet's fight choreography (right, Jon Barker as Pericles battles for Thaisa’s hand in marriage) once again keeps us on the edge of our seats while ensuring that no one gets hurt. Brian Ruggaber uses filmy gauze artfully tucked and arranged to simulate a variety of fantastical locations, along with movable platforms as rocks, a royal dais, the deck of a storm-tossed ship and a goddess' temple.

Once again, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte has given us a dramatic piece with which few theatergoers are familiar, taking a risk and making it pay off. Pericles may not be Shakespeare's finest work, but tricked out in colorful, exotic finery, it is fantastical holiday gift. While I don't think very young children would like it (as they might A Midsummer Night's Dream or The Comedy of Errors), the little boy sitting in front of me was rapt throughout the performance. So think about taking older kids, and relatives and friends to the F.M. Kirby Theatre to see a stylish production of a bit of Bardic fluff.

Pericles will be performed at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's F.M. Kirby Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison through December 29. For performance times and tickets, call the box office at 973.408.5600 or visit online at

Photos: ©Jerry Dalia, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey