Pericles: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Trevor Nunn's ravishing production of Pericles may well be the best account of Shakespeare’s bad romance that you will ever have a chance to see. To be sure, one seldom encounters any major productions of the play, for understandable reasons: Pericles is a wrecked ship of a text. The first two acts—generally attributed to George Wilkins—are little more than an Ancient Mediterranean Flash Gordon adventure that drags the titular Phoenician king (an impressively noble Christian Camargo) from city to city in trials that depict, among other things, a jousting tournament, a riddle about incest, two catastrophes at sea and two separate contests to win a princess’s hand in marriage. The play’s more poetic second half, which Shakespeare likely wrote, takes place 16 years later and suggests a rough draft of The Winter’s Tale, complete with climactic reunions between Pericles and the daughter (Lilly Englert) and wife (Gia Crovatin) he has long mourned as dead. Among the plot points are a pirate abduction, sexual slavery, a premature burial and a guest shot by the goddess Diana.
It is a testament to Nunn’s directorial mastery that he is able to fashion a coherent, often beautiful pageant from such weird materials. Through liberal textual editing, this Pericles clarifies the story and slices out some sour patches, the better to build to its envoi to the audience: “New joy wait on you!” It elevates passages of doggerel by setting them to very fine music by Shaun Davey, with the lads of PigPen Theatre Co. doubling as spear-carriers and musicians; taking to heart the first part of Pericles’ claim to have been educated “in arts and arms,” the production emphasizes the sensitive side of its roving hero. A capable supporting cast—including John Rothman as Pericles’ kindly father-in-law, Philip Casnoff as his loyal friend and Nina Hellman as a wicked queen—helps flesh out the play’s dry bones, and Constance Hoffman’s extraordinary costumes offer a sumptuous visual feast. Against all odds, the play is finally quite moving; the famed “recognition scene” between Pericles and his daughter, Marina, brought tears to my eyes. Amid the wild twists, this delicate moment offers hope of new joy for characters whom the play has spun on Catherine wheels of fortune.—Adam Feldman
Theatre for a New Audience (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Trevor Nunn. With Christian Camargo. 2hrs 50mins. One intermission.