Sunday, January 9, 2011

PERICLES • The Black Rep

The Black Rep opens its 34th season with PERICLES, a Shakespeare play that's seldom performed.  It draws from a couple of sources, and is generally thought of to have been only half written by Shakespeare.

It seems tempting for many directors to play around with times and locations for Shakespeare's plays.  Andrea Frye's direction moves the locales from places like Tarsus, Pentapolis, Ephesus and Mytilene, to Pre-Colonial Africa, 20th century Haiti, 1950's Havana, the Gullah Islands in the 1960's and 1920's New Orleans.

Ka’ramuu Kush (Pericles).
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
Gower (Robert Mitchell), our amiable narrator, sets the stage before each scene.  As the play begins, Pericles (Ka’ramuu Kush), the fictional Prince of Tyre, must solve a riddle in order to win the hand of the daughter of the King of Antioch.  Those who answer the riddle incorrectly will die.  The answer, Pericles realizes, reveals an incestuous relationship the King is having with his daughter.  Solving the riddle or not answering would both cost Pericles his life.  He hints to the King that he knows the answer, but doesn't reveal it.  He asks for more time, and escapes from the city.  The King sends out an assassin after him, lest his dirty little secret get out.  Pericles returns to his home, and is advised to make tracks out of town.  He's then sea-swept from one adventure to another.  His ship is wrecked by a storm, and he's washed onto foreign shores where he becomes the unlikely winner of the hand of Thaisa, the daughter of yet another King.  Honestly, laying out all of the plot is really tempting, because it's just all so crazy.  Let's just say that along the way, you'll encounter miraculous feats of survival, "virgin whores", murder plots, abduction and unlikely reunions.  Oh, and he also manages to save a starving nation.

Rich Pisarkiewicz (Simonidies) and
Patrese D. McClain (Thaisa).
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
This is not one of Shakespeare's popular plays.  It's filled with improbable events that will put your willful suspension of disbelief to the test.  But with Frye's re-imagined direction -- shaking it up and putting a different spin on the time-frames made it much more interesting.  The brothel set in New Orleans was a particularly great scene.  Most everyone plays multiple roles, but there were many standouts.  Ka’ramuu Kush made for a handsome Pericles, showing the full range you'd expect in anyone performing the lead in a Shakespeare play.  Patrese D. McClain was charming and quite funny at times as Thaisa, and Susie Wall stole the scenes set in the New Orleans brothel as Bawd.  It was hard to take your eyes off of Linda Kennedy in every scene she was in, and Robert Mitchell was wonderful as Gower.  Great performances from Chauncy Thomas, Rich Pisarkiewicz, Theo Wilson, Sharisa Whatley, and the rest of the hard-working cast as well.

Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
Dunsai Dai's two-tiered set was simple, effective and allowed for plenty of room for the action.  Mark Varns' lighting was unobtrusive but the night I saw it, one of the color filters on the projector had gone out, but it really didn't matter too much.  The variety of locations made it possible to incorporate a wide range of beautiful costumes (Sarita Fellows) and music (Robin Weatherall), but there were some dodgy moments when the incorporation of the sound wasn't as seamless as you'd like it to be, but still, I was pretty much captivated from the beginning.  It's running until the 30th, and it's a good opportunity to see a rarely performed Shakespeare play with a new spin.


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Andrea Frye
Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square 
through January 30 | tickets: $17 - $47
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm

Ryan Cunningham (Ensemble), Joe Hanrahan (Thaliard/Philemon/Bolt/Ensemble), Dwight House (Ensemble), Linda Kennedy* (Lychorida/Cerimon/Ensemble), Erik Kilpatrick* (Leonine/Ensemble), Ka’ramuu Kush (Pericles), Patrese D. McClain* (Thaisa/Emsemble), Robert Mitchell (Gower/Cleon), Rich Pisarkiewicz* (Antiochus/Simonidies/Pander/Ensemble), Terell Randall (Ensemble), Chauncy Thomas* (Helicanus/Ensemble), Susie Wall* (Dionyza/Bawd/Ensemble), Sharisa Whatley* (Daughter/Marina/Ensemble) and Theo Wilson (Lysimachus/Ensemble).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Dunsai Dai; costume design by Sarita Fellows; lighting design by Mark Varns; sound design by Robin Weatherall; projection design by Thomas Byrd; dramaturg/text coach, Chris Anthony; stage manager, Tracy D. Holliway-Wiggins.

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