Talkin' Broadway


November 21, 2014

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is not commonly said to contain William Shakespeare’s finest writing. Hamlet‘s soliloquies, Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness, A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘s Pyramus and Thisbe, King Lear — all these (and more) are cited much more readily as being the best of The Bard. But the first scene of Act V of Pericles is, to my mind, as good as any of them, and The Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit production of the show, which is playing at the company’s Lafayette Street home through the end of the month, treats it expertly. The titular ruler (portrayed here by Raffi Barsoumian) has endured all manner of hardships over much of the last two decades: assassination attempts, shipwrecks, losing his wife in childbirth and giving up his daughter soon after. And the girl Marina (Flor De Liz Perez) has known suffering as well: She’s an orphan who was taken in by royalty but fell afoul of them and was sent out to be killed, then she was captured by pirates and made to work in a brothel where every day was a new battle to maintain her virginity. Few in Shakespeare have had to endure such wrenching ordeals.


November 18, 2014

You may be forgiven for not even knowing, as most people don’t, that Shakespeare wrote a play called Pericles. Not only is this wildly irregular work almost never produced, but a wide academic consensus holds that the Bard penned only the second half of it, which seems obvious even to nonscholarly eyes. The first part is a frantic Aegean adventure tale of kings and riddles and wrecks at sea, perhaps better suited to a puppet show than to a stage; the second is a poetically rich sequence of scenes that strongly prefigures The Winter’s Tale. Despite some beautiful passages, Pericles is like a hybrid from Greek myth: the head of a noble lion grafted onto the body of a bucking donkey.


November 24, 2014

Last summer, the radio host Ira Glass prompted a Twitter tempest when he attended the Public Theater’s lackluster King Lear and tweeted: “No stakes, not relatable. I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks.” The theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit has just returned Pericles, Prince of Tyre to Lafayette Street, having toured the production to homeless shelters, community centers and correctional facilities — reaching audiences who can’t spend a day standing in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets. Few Bardolators would argue that Pericles is the equal of Lear in poetry or power. It has a clunky, outmoded framing device, and its plot, which involves multiple shipwrecks, an unlikely resurrection and some extremely polite brothel customers, is tough to respect. But this 100-minute show (about half the length of Lear) is feisty and involving. And while I’ve never believed that great art has to be “relatable,” the audience members who watched the final act of Pericles with tears in their eyes seemed to find it so. The director, Rob Melrose, has assembled a diverse eight-member cast, costumed in attractive neutrals, to play some 40 roles and provide the backing music, too.