Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pericles, Prince of Tyre at ASC

Shakespeare is back. Actually, he’s been back for a several weeks (after the season of holiday shows, A Christmas Carol and Santaland Diaries), but I’m just starting my assault on the five plays in American Shakespeare Center’s 2007 Actors’ Renaissance Season, in which the company, known for its "original staging practices," takes that tradition a step further and does away with directors. The actors basically direct themselves, with input from the rest of the cast and crew. Sometimes the result can be a little clunky, but I wouldn’t say that about last night’s show.

I saw Pericles and I can safely say that I’ve never seen a performance of the play before. I’m not sure I’ve even read it, although didn’t they make us read all the plays in that college Shakespeare class? Pericles, Prince of Tyre, flees Antioch, gets shipwrecked at Pentapolis and marries the king’s daughter, but on the way back to Tyre she dies and is buried at sea after giving birth to their daughter Marina, whom Pericles places in the care of the good people of Tarsus. Time passes, things are not what they seem, etc. All very Shakespearean. All performances here were excellent. René Thornton Jr. makes a terrific Pericles, although I can imagine another actor playing him more comically; Thornton plays it straight. James Keegan is Cleon, governor of Tarsus, and also Simonides, King of Pentapolis, and is fantastic as both, especially the latter, which is a very funny part. John Harrell, though, was probably the highlight for me as Gower, the chorus, who narrates the action directly to the audience in several long speeches at the beginning of each act. (This production also represented the passage of time through interludes between each act—four in all—but I think that Gower’s speeches would have been sufficient. The interludes dragged the show out longer than it needed to be, in my opinion.)

I’m looking forward to the rest of the season: Hamlet (First Quarto), The Duchess of Malfi, The Brats of Clarence, and The Devil is an Ass.

Here's the Prologue of Pericles:

Before the palace of Antioch
To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient Gower is come;
Assuming man's infirmities,
To glad your ear, and please your eyes.
It hath been sung at festivals,
On ember-eves and holy-ales;
And lords and ladies in their lives
Have read it for restoratives:
The purchase is to make men glorious;
Et bonum quo antiquius, eo melius.
If you, born in these latter times,
When wit's more ripe, accept my rhymes.
And that to hear an old man sing
May to your wishes pleasure bring
I life would wish, and that I might
Waste it for you, like taper-light.
This Antioch, then, Antiochus the Great
Built up, this city, for his chiefest seat:
The fairest in all Syria,
I tell you what mine authors say:
This king unto him took a fere,
Who died and left a female heir,
So buxom, blithe, and full of face,
As heaven had lent her all his grace;
With whom the father liking took,
And her to incest did provoke:
Bad child; worse father! to entice his own
To evil should be done by none:
But custom what they did begin
Was with long use account no sin.
The beauty of this sinful dame
Made many princes thither frame,
To seek her as a bed-fellow,
In marriage-pleasures play-fellow:
Which to prevent he made a law,
To keep her still, and men in awe,
That whoso ask'd her for his wife,
His riddle told not, lost his life:
So for her many a wight did die,
As yon grim looks do testify.
What now ensues, to the judgment of your eye
I give, my cause who best can justify.


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