Out of all the shows I have seen In the past few months, THIS is one of the most outstanding. The remaining run of the Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit production of Pericles Prince of Tyre is too short for the style, class and clarity that this production brings to the New York Theatre collective.
Get thee to this show now. Don’t think. Just trust me and GO!!
This is a pared down version of Perecles. You know that one? No? Count yourselves in the majority. This is a not often produced play, and to be honest I am not familiar with the why’s and wherefore of this. I leave that to you scholars.
Surely it is not the subject matter – It has all the unbelievable elements – dead folks coming back to life (The Winter’s Tale) storm at sea tossing folks onto shore without so much as a scratch (The Tempest). A little dab of incest (Coriolanus). Love at first sight (Romeo and Juliet). Pirates Um… Oh yeah, Hamlet but off stage.
But above all else, what this production has going for it is imagination. This is storytelling at its best. One rug. One Table. Two Ottomans. An assortment of props that you could find anywhere: stools, ropes, sticks – that’s it. The rest is left to your imagination, courtesy of the most excellent troop of actors. There are eight. As to the characters, there are 40.
Ready. Set. Go.
So swift and skillful are these actors that it is easy to give over to their invitation to join in and be the best audience they have ever met. Which will require some doing, as these people have cut their teeth on audiences who are not pampered theatre goers. The previous audiences that have seen this show were located at prisons of all security levels, community centers and schools. For some it was the first time they had seen Shakespeare. For some, it was the first time they had seen a play. This production was created with the intention that it be clear to these audiences. We just happen to be the additional beneficiaries.
The evening begins with Stephanie Ybarra, The Public’s Director of Special Projects, who talks us through the premise of Mobile Shakespeare. They are reviving the methodology of Joe Papp who began his work bringing theatre to the public by buying a bus, loading the actors and the set and BRINGING theatre to the public. She asks us a few questions: Anyone ever been down and hopeless? Everyone’s hands shoot up. Anyone ever love and lost? Hands up again. Etc. Etc. This play is for you, she tells us. Before she leaves the stage she reads a letter from a woman in an upstate jail. This play, the woman writes, reminds us not to give up.
Indeed it does. It is a double whammy of a message. Not only is the story of Pericles a lesson in faith and survival, the entire production is a visible example of how much you can do with very little. If you piled the costumes and the props onto the stage, it would fit into the tiniest storage unit that Manhattan has to offer. Not much in size or value. But when placed in the hands of actors who have been guided by a light and steady hand, these items are indeed the stuff of which dreams are made.
Bravisimma. Drinks on me.
Pericles Prince of Tyre by William Shakespeare, Directed by Rob Melrose
The complete cast of eight features Raffi Barsoumian (Pericles); Christopher Kelly (Lysimachus, and others); Ben Mehl (Boult, and others); Flor De Liz Perez (Marina, and others); Amanda Quaid (Dionyza, and others); David Ryan Smith (Antiochus, and others); Tiffany Rachelle Stewart (Thaisa, and others); and J.D. Webster (Helicanus, and others).
Scenic design by Wilson Chin; costume design by Moria Sine Clinton; composer Michael Thurber; and movement direction by Christopher Windom.
The Public Theater (Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis; Executive Director; Patrick Willingham) presents the Mobile Shakespeare Unit’s PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE, through Sunday, November 30 in the Shiva Theater, following a three-week tour, bringing free Shakespeare to audiences who have limited or no access to the arts. The Public Theater performance schedule will be Mondays through Fridays at 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (There is no performance on Tuesday, November 18 and Thursday, November 27).
Single tickets, priced at $20, are on sale now and can be access by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at 425 Lafayette Street.