Off-Broadway Review: PERICLES (Target Margin Theater’s THE DOXSEE)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on March 16, 2023

in Theater-New York


Pericles by William Shakespeare is a play that is probably ripe for an HBO adaptation. It deals with incest, death, redemption, palaces, brothels, lies, scheming mothers, weak fathers, assassins, purity, evil, pirates, kings, storms, princes, magic, Divine intervention, threatened rape and some very convenient coincidences. Ultimately, it’s a Shakespearean romance that explores how misfortune can lead to rebirth. The first few acts are filled with exciting adventures but then the play turns more ominous once Pericles believes both his wife and daughter are dead.

Eunice Wong, Susannah Wilson, Hannah Tamminen, Mary Neufeld,
Shawn K. Jain, Anthony Vaughn Merchant, Peter Romano
Shawn K. Jain, Eunice Wong, Hannah Tamminen, Mary Neufeld

The episodic nature of the story itself along with the Gower character that introduces each act, kind of like an announcer catching us up on what happened last week, lends itself to out-of-the-box interpretations for an onstage presentations. Target Margin Theater’s Pericles at The Doxsee Theater in Brooklyn is out-of-the-box, indeed. Written by William Shakespeare and Others, this adaptation adds modern dialogue, oppositional (and loud) musical scoring, and a very foregrounded directorial concept – all of which seem to have little interest in either telling this story or how the audience receives it. What’s presented is a well-executed exercise in style over substance. It is visually interesting but emotionally cold and keeps the audience at arms length, rarely including us in the proceedings.

Susannah Wilson, Anthony Vaughn Merchant,
Mary Neufeld, Hannah Tamminen, Kate Budney
Hannah Tamminen, Susannah Wilson, Shawn K. Jain,
Mary Neufeld, Peter Romano, Anthony Vaughn Merchant

The program notes state in part that Target Margin Theater exists., “…to remake the world as a more engaged, aware and humane version of itself.” Yet in this production the humanity is exactly what is missing. The work is so stylized and heightened and so focused on that alone that any kind of emotional build or connection is basically lost. I was able to get some sense of the original story but only because I refreshed myself on the play before seeing the show.  Otherwise, I would have been floundering to figure out the unfolding events.

Eunice Wong, Hannah Tamminen, Shawn K. Jain, Peter Romano, Susannah Wilson
Mary Neufeld, Peter Romano, Susannah Wilson, Eunice Wong, Anthony Vaughn Merchant

That said, the production does do some admirable work within the goals it has set for itself. The ensemble is brilliantly cohesive and staging by director David Herskovits makes inspired use of the large playing space. Some roles are cast very much against type which works better as an opportunity for audience members to challenge their own preconceptions rather than serving the character. Herskovits uses many diagonals and defined movements in his staging (perhaps Viewpoints?) that give the piece a slight resonance with modern dance. And it is fascinating to see the text/story removed from it’s usually privileged position and serve as just another element of the overall performance – no more or less important than the costumes, props, lights, etc.

Mary Neufeld, Eunice Wong, Peter Romano,
Susannah Wilson, Hannah Tamminen, Anthony Vaughn Merchant
Hannah Tamminen, Peter Romano, Eunice Wong, Kate Budney,
Susannah Wilson, Anthony Vaughn Merchant, Mary Neufeld, Peter Romano

The acting falls in line with the heightened nature of the entire piece – not really humans but more facsimiles thereof with the exception of layered work by Anthony Vaughn Merchant as Simonides and Eunice Wong as an aged Pericles uniting with his long lost daughter. The standout, however, is Hannah Tamminen in all of her roles. Particularly as Dionyza and Bawd, Ms. Tamminen is able to embody all the stylistic requirements of the pervasive directorial concept yet consistently reveals the humanity of her characters. Costume Design by Dina El-Aziz is also noteworthy, creating a colorful and motley look on the surface yet actually very intentional and united underneath.

Eunice Wong, Susannah Wilson
Hannah Tamminen, Susannah Wilson, Eunice Wong,
Shawn K. Jain, Anthony Vaughn Merchant, Peter Romano

Target Margin Theater’s production of Pericles is the kind of show that should be seen by young theater artists eager for inspiration to take chances. Audiences who have that same need may also enjoy the show’s creativity and challenging spirit. However, if you want a more accessible telling then you’re probably better served waiting for that HBO series.

Mary Neufeld, Peter Romano, Susannah Wilson,
Eunice Wong, Anthony Vaughn Merchant, Peter Romano

photos by Richard Termine

Target Margin Theater
The Doxsee, 232 52nd St in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn
1:45 run time | Wed–Sat at 7:30; Sun at 4 | ends on April 2, 2023
for tickets, visit Target Margin

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