Conceived and Directed by Jordan Reeves, Based on Pericles by Shakespeare
Produced by Hunger & Thirst Theatre with The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project
Off Off Broadway, Classic
Runs through 11.18.17
West End Theater, 263 West 86th Street
by Ran Xia on 11.9.17
Jacques Roy and Patricia Lynn in Pericles: Born in a Tempest. Photo by Al Foote III.
BOTTOM LINE: A highly imaginative and moving production of Pericles that highlights the father-daughter relationship in this timeless play.
Last season, Hunger and Thirst brought us a brilliant production of Mark Jackson’s Messenger #1 (inspired by the Oresteia), and I have since admired the company’s knack of putting a modern and vastly inventive spin on classical texts. This time around, their collaboration with The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project results in a heartwarming rendition of Pericles, putting Shakespeare’s most “far out” tale in a surprisingly relatable, and...wait for it...domestic, context.
The set (Lynne Porter) is a simple living room with a lone couch surrounded by cardboard boxes. Sea shanties from faraway memories are heard before the sound of a storm starts the play, and so it begins—with thunder crashes, the loss of an estranged father, and the incessant cries of a baby. A family in mourning returns home, where Marina (Patricia Lynn) reluctantly opens her inheritance: a notebook that her dead father had bestowed her, with an affectionate note attached. But it’s a past she isn’t quite ready to revisit. Her family and friends, however, insist on telling the story, titled in the notebook as "Pericles, Born in a Tempest, by John Gower" (the chorus in Shakespeare's version).
A tempestuous tale thus unfolds, by way of a low tech play, done with props and costumes made out of everything that’s readily available in a common home: fabric, masks made out of paper, and toys. The navy officer in the portrait, Marina’s newly departed father, is conjured by the narrative and becomes Pericles, the Prince of Tyre (Jaques Roy), with all his adventures and misfortunes afoot.
Director Jordan Reeves manages to achieve clarity in this complex story with delicious simplicity, while liberally applying whimsical, contemporary references. One good example is his treatment of the scene where Pericles wins the heart of Thaisa: Reeves has him duel various knights, represented by a stuffed monkey or a Batman action figure. A vivacious Jordan Kaplan embodies each of those characters, which also fill the Shakespearean verse with childlike wonder.
The life of both Pericles and Marina is punctuated with constant departures, making the play a perfect allegory for a military family. Here’s a father and daughter who never managed to spend much time together. The ailing old man doesn’t recognize his long-lost daughter, except that she reminds him of his beloved wife, taken too soon by a different tempest. And the already grown young woman was brought up ignorant of her father and his vast love for her, so he’s but a stranger, one who is inexplicably familiar. However, when they finally recognize each other, the old man on the wheelchair experiences a moment of perfect lucidity and unadulterated joy, and for a moment, everything seems right. You almost believe there is about to be a happy ending, and then it hits you: it’s already too late.
This all reminded me of the tears of joy that come when family members of Alzheimer patients, after hours, days, or even months of effort, finally get a look of recognition. I found myself thinking of my own grandfather in his final days, the confused expression on his face seeing his own children around him. Loss comes before death, when memories are taken away too soon.
The production features a team of captivating performers who commune in verse but make it sound so natural that they might as well be your next-door neighbors having an affectionate conversation. What’s also noteworthy is the design team. Porter‘s set and Randall Benichak‘s sound design are both hyper-realistic, complete with the streams of rainwater on the window panes and the convincing cries of a baby in the bundle. The projections by Matt Reeves are another highlight, striking a balance between the ornamental-like illustrations in a storybook and the suggestive, semi-realistic background of the narrative itself. Most importantly, this design manages to accentuate the storytelling without becoming a distraction.
I have often found productions of Pericles either overly ambitious with grandeur or preoccupied by the play’s magical elements, which sometimes make the piece unnecessarily enigmatic and vague. But in Pericles: Born in a Tempest, I was overjoyed to witness the story being told in such a palatable and moving way. It’s a gift for every daughter or son who wants to commemorate and honor the love of a parent, especially in moments of trauma and loss.
(Pericles: Born in a Tempest plays at West End Theater, 263 West 86th Street, through November 18, 2017. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays at 7, Fridays and Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 2; additional performances Wednesday 11/15 at 7 and Saturday 11/18 at 2. Tickets are $15 and are available at hungerandthirsttheatre.com.)
Pericles: Born in a Tempest is by conceived and directed by Jordan Reeves, based on Pericles: Prince of Tyre by William Shakespeare. Set Design is by Lynne Porter; Lighting Design is by Melissa Mizell; Costume Design is by Lea Reeves; Sound Design is by Randall Benichak; Projection Design is by Matt Reeves. Original Music is by David Reiser. Stage Manager is Heather Olmstead. Assistant Stage Manager is Emily Seibert. Technical Director is Jacques Roy.
The cast is Jordan Kaplan, Patricia Lynn, Kathryn Metzger, Jacques Roy, and Tom Schwans.