Sunday, November 5, 2017

Margin Notes: Pericles: Born in a Tempest

Jacques Roy and Kathryn Metzger as Pericles and Thaisa.
Photo by Al Foote III.

Seen on: Friday, 11/3/17.
My grade: A

Plot and Background
A new mother, mourning the death of her father, opens his parting gift: a handwritten story in a leather-bound journal. A story of Pericles and his adventures, a story from her childhood. Her family and friends take on the task of enacting the story within, summoning the spirit of her father to play the role of Pericles on his seafaring voyages, and eventually leading her to a reconciliation of her memories and grief. Hunger & Thirst Theatre, which specializes in modern updates to classic works, reimagines Shakespeare's romance as a story within a story, building parallels from the tale of Pericles and his daughter Marina to the contemporary woman grieving her father.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'd seen a production of Pericles at TFANA, but didn't retain a lot of specifics, beyond the memory of an episodic structure and a father and daughter separated and reunited.


Play: While the play is a little slow to start, with the grieving characters fumbling for action, shifting boxes and juggling a squalling infant, it bounds into liveliness once Pericles himself joins the party. The spell cast by the storytellers then reaches its full potency, and doesn't wane. Weaving easily together the makeshift playfulness of puppetting dolls to simulate a fight, and a full-out duel, director Jordan Reeves synthesizes what should be disparate styles into the only elixir which could coax this woman out of her grief - the joy of play, and the romantic sweep of the story her father told her so many times. We are wooed as she is wooed, slowly but surely, to see what in the story of Pericles reflects her memories of her father, and her relationship to him. We, too, feel the loss of a great spirit. In addition to its cuts - mostly cinching in of the story to a tight 90-minute narrative - this production makes a few distinct shifts to the story of Pericles itself, outside of its framework of the grieving family telling an old story. Thaisa is not revived and ultimately reunited with her family; and Marina's reunion with Pericles, though achieved, is short-lived - here the play of storytelling crashes into the framework, as the daughter attempts to reconnect with her fading father, a man in the deep stages of dementia. He is able to speak the scene with her, recognizing and embracing her as his child, but the joy is short-lived, and he soon retreats once more into bewilderment and catatonia. While this shift adds a poignancy, particularly to the framing narrative, it is also a deliberate departure from the intention of the source material, and it's perhaps an individual audience member's prerogative to decide whether or not that matters.

Cast: The small ensemble cast is uniformly strong, working together with an engaging sense of play while also making specific choices for each of their many characters, imbuing all with honesty and humanity, without which the episodic story would not work. Jacques Roy is charismatic with an adventurous twinkle in his eye as Pericles, while also heartbreakingly broken and lost as the father of the grieving woman. As the grieving woman herself, Patricia Lynn must serve as the emotional anchor for the seafaring story, never losing the weight of grief, but gradually recalling the lightness of her childhood bedtime story. She also brings an impressive power to Marina. Kathryn Metzger brings wonderful presence to her roles - endearing and earnest as Thaisa, and gravelly and coarse as Boult. Jordan Kaplan is an engaging storyteller, as the principal narrator and husband to the grieving woman, while also getting fun moments of play as a fisherman or (spoilers?) Batman. And Tom Schwans brings an affable (if sometimes seedy) charm to Simonides and to the brothel owner.

Design: The dichotomy of the storytelling is beautifully rendered by the contrast within the design: Lynne Porter's set - a drab apartment, half packed, with key details among the strewn items, like a painting of a sea voyage across red waters, leaning against a wall; Lea Reeves's costumes - funereal base for the characters in mourning, overlaid with found items, drapes of fabric, and comical nods to some of the dolls and action figures used by the characters. Both of these intelligently crafted designs are rendered poetically exquisite by Matt Reeves's projections: sometimes delicate etchings on parchment, sometimes a roiling sea, but always in conversation with Melissa Mizell's lighting and Randall Benichak's sound.


Running: Now playing at West End Theatre (Hunger & Thirst Theatre with The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project) - Opening: November 5, 2017. Closing: November 18, 2017.
Category: straight play
Length: 1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Music: David Reiser
Conceived & Directed by: Jordan Reeves
Designers: Lynne Porter (Set), Lea Reeves (Costume), Melissa Mizell (Lighting), Randall Benichak (Sound), Matt Reeves (Projections).
Cast: Jordan Kaplan, Patricia Lynn, Kathryn Metzger, Jacques Roy, Tom Schwans.

Jacques Roy and Patricia Lynn as father and daughter.
Photo by Al Foote III.

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