Chicago Theater Review: PERICLES (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

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by Barnaby Hughes on December 11, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

CST STAGES A FRESH AND FANTASTICAL PERICLES

William Shakespeare is a man of many faces. To most, he is quite simply a master of the English language and one of the greatest playwrights who ever lived. To others, he is a crypto-Catholic who encoded his plays with hidden meanings. To some, he is a gay icon who wrote sonnets to his male lover. Or perhaps Shakespeare never existed and his plays were written by Edward de Vere or Francis Bacon. No matter how much we think we know Shakespeare, he always eludes us.

The lords and ladies of Pentapolis rejoice in energetic dance in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, directed by David H. Bell, now through January 18, 2015.

Chicago Shakespeare’s Pericles is challenging precisely because it shows us a different, unfamiliar side of the famed playwright. Pericles isn’t a tragedy or a comedy, though it has elements of both. It is, along with Cymbeline, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s late romances. Director David H. Bell milks Pericles more for laughs than tears and provides it with all the spectacular staging effects that the genre requires. The result is a highly entertaining and fantastical odyssey through ancient Mediterranean lands.

A twist of fate launches Pericles (Ben Carlson) on a odyssey filled with adventure, romance, wonder and redemption in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, directed by David H. Bell, now through January 18, 2015.Pericles, Prince of Tyre (Ben Carlson) begins his journey in Antioch by seeking the hand of the king’s daughter. When Pericles discovers their incestuous relationship, he flees for his life. During his subsequent adventures, Pericles’ fortunes ebb and flow with the tides. After losing everything in a shipwreck, he soon gains a wife, Thaisa (Lisa Berry), and a child, Marina (Cristina Panfilio). Believing Thaisa has died during childbirth, Pericles throws her overboard during a storm. After washing up on shore and being revived by Cerimon (Ross Lehman), she becomes a vestal virgin in Ephesus. Marina is then left in the care of Cleon (Torrey Hanson) and Dionyza (Lia D. Mortensen), rulers of Tarsus, who later try to kill her. Instead, Marina is captured by pirates and sold into prostitution. Eventually Pericles is reunited with his loved ones and inherits the kingdom of Antioch. It is a strange and wondrous tale, full of twists and turns and populated with kings and knights, fisherman and slavers.

Thaisa (Lisa Berry) makes a miraculous recovery under the care of the seer Cerimon (Ross Lehman), amazing attendants (far left and right: Eric Parks and Sean Fortunato) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, directed by David H. Bell, now through January 18, 2015.

Much of Pericles is based on John Gower’s late-fourteenth century poem Confessio Amantis. Perhaps in recognition of this, Shakespeare names his narrator Gower. Mr. Bell transforms Gower into the full-blown Greek chorus that his character implies. This has the happy effect of enlivening the story, breaking up Gower’s lengthy monologues into more manageable chunks, and fitting the play more closely to the dramatic conventions of its ancient setting.

Pericles (Ben Carlson) weds Thaisa (Lisa Berry) to the delight of her father, King Simonides (Kevin Gudahl, at center) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, directed by David H. Bell, now through January 18, 2015.

Carlson plays both aspects of the titular lead character—gallant knight errant and tragic hero—equally well. While the part doesn’t call for great displays of emotion, it does require intelligence and integrity, which Carlson manages to convey with aplomb. Among the many talented ensemble members, Ross Lehman and Eric Parks stand out for their comic roles. As Pandar, Cerimon, and an unnamed fisherman, Lehman seized every available opportunity for sarcasm, mimicry, and levity. Since nearly every cast member has double roles, Nan Cibula-Jenkins’ colorful costume design helps us tell them apart by evoking different styles for each place Pericles visits.

Pericles (Ben Carlson) is celebrated for feats of bravery by the court of Pentapolis in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, directed by David H. Bell, now through January 18, 2015.

Scott Davis’s spare set retains the basic outlines of the Elizabethan stage. A long central platform in the shape of a ship’s upside-down hull serves as the primary stage. The multi-story backdrop serves variously as building façade, city gate and building interior; knowing which can be confusing. Aaron Rhyne’s excellent projection design, aided by James Savage’s sound design, occasionally transforms that backdrop into ocean waves, a sumptuously adorned palace or a mystical temple. Jesse Klug’s sensitive lighting design sharpens our focus as scenes and characters sometimes cleverly overlap or transition into one another.

There is so much going in the production at Courtyard Theater that the effect is nearly overwhelming. Bell’s superb direction manages to keep everything in balance so that the impressive staging remains subservient to the playwright’s stunningly realized vision. It is an extraordinary and magical experience that helps us to appreciate Shakespeare anew.

photos by Liz Lauren

Pericles
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier
scheduled to end on January 18, 2015
for tickets, call 312.595.5600 or visit www.Chicagoshakes.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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