The ongoing production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre by the Theatre Arts Department at Utah State University is both an entertaining and educational experience.
Billed as one of William Shakespeare’s romances, Pericles is an Elizabethan soap opera in which the title character wanders around the eastern Mediterranean region suffering all manner of misfortunes. He wins and loses both a wife and a daughter, only to find them again through what must be considered the most miraculous set of unlikely coincidences in theatrical history.
Of all Shakespeare’s works, Pericles may be the least well known as it is seldom performed. The Bard’s near-contemporaries did not include this play in the first publication of his canon because they considered the authorship of at least the first portion of Pericles to be suspect. Some modern experts have apparently concluded that Shakespeare did write the whole play and they’re clearly wrong.
You don’t need a Ph.D. to know that the first two acts of Pericles were written by a far less gifted playwright than William Shakespeare. Your ears alone can provide sufficient proof of that. The poetry of the first half of Pericles plods; but Shakespeare’s words sing in the play’s concluding acts. The difference is like night and day.
Your eyes can also provide evidence in the still ongoing authorship debate. With a few exceptions, even the talented cast of this USU production finds little to work with in the clumsy text of the early scenes of Pericles. But the same cast grows wings and flies during the portion of the play obviously written by Shakespeare.
In the role of the narrator/chorus, Alex Smith provides one of the performances that make the first half of Pericles enjoyable. Smith not only provides context linking the play’s episodic scenes, he even manages to wring a few laughs out of the ham-handed script.
Rebecca Swan is another standout in the play’s early scenes, during which she plays both male and female characters with grace and style.
Cat Evangelho also shines in the role of the Princess Thaisa, who becomes Pericles’ ill-fated wife.
Once the tortured non-Shakespearian text of Pericles is left behind, the whole cast explodes with renewed enthusiasm, making the second half of the production an absolute delight.
Blake Brundy very nearly steals the show in a hilarious gender-bending portrayal of the proprietor of a seafront bawdy house.
Mollee Barse is equally watchable as Marina, the virtuous daughter of Pericles who can literally fast-talk herself out of any predicament.
After difficulties as Pericles in the play’s early scenes, Brian Bohlender finally makes the prince of Tyre sympathetic and believable as he is reunited with his long-lost family.
In many respects, director Leslie Brott’s staging of Pericles is as admirably traditional as it is courageous. She rejected imposing an overarching thematic structure on the play’s episodes, instead relying strictly on Smith’s often-witty narration to move the tale along. In keeping with Elizabethan theater conventions, Ms. Brott incorporates stylistically appropriate music and dance throughout the production. Finally, the costume designs by Nancy Hill brilliantly recapture the diversity of ancient Phoenician garb.
The Morgan Theatre on the USU campus is dark this weekend in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday, but performances of Pericles, Prince of Tyre will resume from Dec. 3rd to 7th.