nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 7, 2005
I had never seen Pericles prior to this production nor had I heard of Slant Theatre Project. However, there are two things I know for sure now: I will definitely go see another Slant production, but I doubt if I will seek out another production of this obscure Shakespearean tragicomedy.
I wanted to see this play because it is being staged in the belly of the historic lightship The Frying Pan, docked off pier 63. I’ve seen other performances there and I’ve always had a good time. This evening was no exception. The audience is allowed to mill about the deck and take in the sights of the mighty Hudson and listen to the DJ spinning for the outdoor café-goers on the pier. When house opens we descend into the depths of the ship, below the waterline, and take our seats along three sides of this level, looking down on the playing area. The heave-ho of the ship is a bit disorienting at first, but it doesn’t take long to get your sea-legs and before you know it you don’t even notice the rocking. However, the musty, basement smell is overwhelming (this ship was underwater for three years) and that I never got used to.
Pericles was popular in its time most likely because of its spirit of high adventure, twisting plotline, and melodramatic qualities such as the bad guys getting their comeuppance and the good guys being rewarded for their suffering. It is about a prince who gains a wife and child after surviving ordeals such as an assignation attempt, a terrible storm at sea, and a jousting contest only to end up losing his beloved family.
But Pericles is an uneven play. Many scholars believe that this is because Shakespeare only wrote the latter half of it. It does not delve into the minds of its main characters nor does it balance the point of view of the royals with the lower classes as in other Shakespearean plays. There are several double events in Pericles, some of which make the play interesting because Shakespeare seems to be trying to show the dual nature of love and virtue, while others raise the question, why was once not good enough? Also, there are some events that are simply hard to swallow, but I suppose that’s true of most plays in this genre.
Despite the issues I have with the play I loved Slant’s ensemble. They are like a group of traveling minstrels—so minimalist, and they creatively transform everyday objects into props. Some of the props and costumes are anachronisms but, thankfully, they make no attempt at modernizing the language. They also avoid making their characters into over-the-top caricatures and instead use their finely tuned Shakespearean acting skills and impeccable comic timing to create fun and memorable individuals.
Nick Capodice puts the master back in Master of Ceremonies in his portrayal of Gower, the play’s narrator (based on John Gower, the poet whose translation Shakespeare used as his main source material for this play). Robert Scott Smith is quirky and quite funny in every role he graces. His depiction of the five different horses and their riders for the jousting scene is absolutely hilarious. Matthew Dellapina is steady and unaffected as our hero Pericles, and Whitney Adams is endearing as his daughter Marina. Jennifer Graven pushes her characters to the edge of exaggeration and this works for the most part. Summer Shirey is striking in all of her roles, and finally Maggie Cantrick is good though she doesn’t have the grasp of the language that is on par with the rest of the ensemble.
Director Wes Grantom does an excellent job maintaining an even style for the entire production. His edit of the play cuts to the chase and Grantom keeps the pace moving along briskly so that the evening flows seamlessly, making the hour and 45 minutes fly by. He uses this unusual space resourcefully, dropping things in from above and bringing actors in from all directions. Derek Wright also deserves a mention for his simple yet effective light design.
I had an enjoyable experience with Slant’s production of Pericles and I think you will too. Pericles may not be one of Shakespeare’s best works but this production proves that a good company can take on any play and make it worthwhile.