Review: PERICLES, A Shakespearean Soap Opera Without the Blood

PERICLES - ISC

André Martin as Pericles. Photos by Grettel Cortes

Each summer in Griffith Park, Independent Shakespeare Co. presents fully-produced large scale performances for hundreds of people on a nightly basis. Instead of the expensive dinner and a movie scenario, families flock to the park for a more neighborly picnic and a play. It’s friendly, affordable (the play is free), and fun…and that’s about as good as it gets on a summer night in LA.

During the off season, the company returns to its much smaller 49-seat theater in Atwater Village for a more experimental approach to Shakespeare and other classics. Here they are able to try out new ideas and play around with concepts that may grow into future festival productions or simply inspire short-term creativity. They also offer classes for the public, music nights, discussions, and other special one-night-only events, always with an eye to entertaining their growing community of friends and fans.

ISC’s latest studio production, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, directed by Melissa Chalsma, is a perfect example of this kind of experimentation in which the space becomes a playground, of sorts, for a small group of seven actors to bring Shakespeare’s epic adventure tale to life.

Like kids playing dress up, bodies tumble and chairs crash, lights flicker and cloth is tossed wildly in the air to simulate a storm. Faraway lands are written in chalk on the back wall to mark the shifts in location so the audience can keep track of where the current scene is taking place. It’s a helpful touch since none of them are very familiar to the modern ear.

Most of the actors play multiple roles, with only André Martin taking on a single character (Pericles), although he does get to play a younger and older version of the wandering prince. Essentially a passive hero, Pericles endures great suffering and repeated loss over the course of the play. In the end, salvation finds him, rather than coming by virtue of any meaningful action on his part. It is a departure for Martin, and audiences that are used to seeing him flex his comedy muscles or put on the bravado in a swaggering sword fight will appreciate his thoughtful interpretation of the character. Best moment in the play is Martin’s touching reunion with his long-lost daughter, although her attempts to coax him out of his melancholy almost backfire.

That daughter is played by a radiant Kalean Ung. She is listed in the program as Marina yet she functions as a composite figure also taking on the narrative passages of Gower (Chorus), who is absent from the Company list. Whether the choice has been made for efficiency’s sake or as a comment on shaping one’s own destiny within a play that says fate belongs to the will of the gods, it is an interesting choice, and one that provides a lyrical quality to the framework of the piece. In either case, the lissome actress has a haunting singing voice and a dancer’s ability to set a mood.

Not all of the actors are as successful; some are out of their wheelhouse yet each is effective in expressing the essence of his or her character. A willing suspension of disbelief is called upon to fill in the gaps, and there are moments when exuberance causes an actor to overshoot his mark. Still, there is something exciting about watching the developmental process in action by a troupe of players skilled at pulling a story out of thin air. ISC knows how to entertain a crowd.

Written in 1607, Pericles is part of a group of plays known as Shakespeare’s romances that also includes The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, and The Tempest. All of them are grand tales with intricate plots that contain both tragic and comic elements. It is also likely that Pericles is not the sole invention of William Shakespeare but a collaborative effort with an innkeeper by the name of George Wilkins. Wilkins is said to have written the first two acts which are stylistically different from the rest of the play with Shakespeare being responsible for most of the last three acts.

An ominous opening sets a mournful tone that foreshadows the challenges and misadventures Pericles will encounter over a period of many years compressed into a two-hour adaptation. Chris Porter’s musical embellishments all linger in a minor key while whimsical visuals offer a hint of the exotic, and even humor, with bucket helmets, a headpiece made from a stuffed crow, piggyback jousting, and a row of skulls keeping watch from pegs on the wall. About the only thing this Shakespearean soap opera doesn’t have is the blood!

ISC solves the problems of Shakespeare’s unusual play by jumping in with both feet and turning it inside out. Villains, lovers, liars, and clowns all get their day, and the audience gets an intriguing look at a classic that upends expectations and makes them part of Pericles’ monumental adventure. Go see for yourself.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE
April 24 – May 24, 2015
Independent Shakespeare Co. at the Independent Studio
Atwater Crossing Arts + Innovation Complex
3191 Casitas Ave., #168 in Atwater Village
Tickets: (818) 710-6306 or www.iscla.org

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