Hunger & Thirst Theatre with The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project have reimagined Shakespeare’s Pericles as a unique and compelling, psychologically sound, serious and often hilarious story of loss, struggle and ultimate redemption through the resolution of conflict that only profound understanding can achieve.
In its new incarnation the play opens just after the funeral of an old sailor, perhaps an admiral, named John Gower. His family gathers for a wake of an unexpected sort: John’s daughter, Marina, with her newborn child, is most deeply affected by the loss, but she receives her father’s will, a book which is Shakespeare’s Pericles, and a note. Her family and friends, resourceful as they try to console her, begin to read the play aloud, and as the action progresses, rapidly transform into the characters therein. We have, then, a play within a play.
What ensues is, yes, Shakespeare’s tale of Prince Pericles, his wooing of Princess Thaisa, the birth at sea of their daughter, Marina, and the death in childbirth of Thaisa in the storm; Marina’s youth spent away from her father who has left her with a friend, the friend’s betrayal of that trust, Marina’s near death at the hands of the betrayer, Marina’s life as a virgin in a brothel and her emotional strength which sustains her. Pericles knows nothing of his daughter’s adult struggles, returns to his friend’s kingdom, is told that Marina is dead by an unknown cause, and he goes into mourning.
At this point the action reverts to the real Marina, the one we know is mourning for her father, John Gower. We see John alive at a late stage in life, hunched in his wheelchair. He has spoken to no one for a long time, but is awakened by his daughter’s tenderness, her assertion that she is Marina. He comes to accept this and sees in her his dead wife also.
Whether that scene actually occurred in John Gower’s life is unknown. But for Marina, who has been drawn into the story-telling action, playing Marina, Pericles’s daughter, she experiences a fine melding of her role as mother-daughter to her father. She understands that he, during his lifetime had identified with Pericles as Shakespeare had written him: a prince on life’s journey which takes him across the sea many times, a sailor in search of fulfillment and family, a man with obligations to his kingdom, a man whose motto is “In this hope I live.”
That hope is fulfilled for Marina and her living family in this retelling of the play as a psychological reunification and strengthening of the family which sails many times and in many ways. In Shakespeare’s ending, the reunification happens through resurrection of Marina and Thaisa, both thought to be dead. That ending was probably deeply satisfying to Elizabethan audiences who were largely Christian. For the 21st century audience, which may be less religiously inclined, this current story is perhaps more satisfying, more true to our understanding of the human psyche, post Freud and the scholars and physicians whose work is to heal in our challenging, conflicted civilization.
The play is beautifully conceived and directed by Jordan Reeves, utilizing Shakespeare’s language and interior plot, the play within the play. The styling of the production is absolute simplicity: a living room with a couch, packed boxes of John’s belongings, a couple of chairs, including the wheelchair, and simple props which are brought out to bring the scenes of the travails of Pericles to life. A few bright hats, some scarves and swords, yellow slickers for a scene with fishermen who, in their wisdom, save Pericles from starvation, a tiny four masted sail boat, and oh yes, some tiny action figures. Batman, Superman and King Kong make guest appearances with great courage and humor in a joust for Thaisa’s hand.
The production benefits from beautiful, appropriate and affecting wall projections which serve as set changes: the swirling ocean, what appear to be book pages of old ink drawings of coastal stone towns, the sea shore with drift wood, skeletons of ship wrecks, and a sketched brothel façade (Girls Girls Girls). Music plays a subtle evocative role, including sea chanties heard as the audience waits for the play to begin.
And then there’s the stellar company of actors, all five profoundly skilled and playing many more characters, physically adept with spot-on timing, able to bring forth complex serious emotions as well as hilarious surprises. They handle the language with perfect precision and clarity, so all of Shakespeare receives its due. I commend Patricia Lynn, Jacques Roy, Jordan Kaplan, Kathryn Metzger and Tom Schwans and thank them for entertaining us in such a sophisticated manner in the final preview performance.
PERICLES: BORN IN A TEMPEST – written by William Shakespeare and conceived and directed by Jordan Reeves
WITH: Patricia Lynn, Jacques Roy, Jordan Kaplan, Kathryn Metzger and Tom Schwans
Jordan Reeves (Director), Heather Olmstead (Stage Manager), Emily Seibert (Assistant Stage Manager), Lynne Porter (Scenic Designer), Lea Reeves (Costume Designer), Melissa Mizell (Lighting Designer), Randall Benichak (Sound Designer), Matt Reeves (Projection Designer), David Reiser (Composer and Lyricist), Jacques Roy (Technical Director)
Presented by Hunger & Thirst Theatre and The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project at The West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street, New York, NY
This play opens on November 5 at 2:00pm. The performance schedule is Thursday at 7PM; Friday & Saturday at 8PM; Sunday at 2PM. There are added performances on Wednesday, November 15 at 7PM and Saturday, November 18 at 2PM. Check with Hunger & Thirst Theatre for ticket information, www.hungerandthirsttheatre.com. Running time is 90 minutes.