Pericles

Article excerpt

Presented by the Stratford Festival of Canada at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. May 21-October 31, 2003. Directed by Leon Rubin. Set by John Pennoyer. Costumes by John Pennoyer. Lighting by Michael J. Whitfield. Sound by Peter Mcboyle. Fights by Haysam Kadri. With Thom Marriot (Gower), Jonathan Goad (Pericles), Donald Carrier (Helicanus), Anthony Malarky (Antiochus), Lindsay Clarke (Antiochus's Daughter), Nazneen Contractor (Marina), Stephen Russell (Cleon), Brigit Wilson (Dionyza), Charles Azulay (Simonides), Karen Ancheta (Thaisa), Wayne Sujo (Cerimon), Haysam Kadri (Lysimachus), Sarah McVie (The Bawd), Kyle Blair (Pandar), Michael Therriault (Boult), and others.

Partly due to its omission from the First Folio, and to the possibility that Shakespeare did not write its first two acts, Pericles's value within the Shakespearean canon has often been questioned. While generally acknowledged as the beginning of Shakespeare's turn towards tragicomic romance, many wonder whether Pericles's overtly medieval moral tone, frequently incoherent plot, and wild variety of settings make the play unsuited for the modern theatre. Since about 1990, however, a number of directors have rediscovered ways to present the play, and to this list of innovative artists can be added director Leon Rubin and designer John Pennoyer; for Stratford 2003, they mounted a production that turned the play's apparent weaknesses into strengths, and took the audience's imagination on a spectacular tour of exotic regions that not only entertain, but actually reanimate the play's theatrical magic.

Rubin's key innovation is to shift the play's original, mideastern settings further east, and to stress their ethnic character. Antiochus, placed by Shakespeare in Syria, remains in North Africa, and Pericles's own home, Tyre, remains Greek, but successive scenes are relocated in mythical, Arabian Nights-style versions of India, Japan, Thailand, and Bali. Pennoyer, who traveled to Thailand last winter and returned with a wide variety of colorful materials and ceremonial costumes, has made these scenes aural and visual feasts; as the play's opening lines promise, these settings "glad [our] ear and please [our] eyes," and also serve to recreate the sense of mysterious adventure that Shakespeare's original audience might have found in mideastern climes. Perhaps more importantly, in a paradoxical way the vastly different but equally exciting settings tend to unify the play. Pericles's identity as exotic traveler becomes clearer, and the improbability of any ancient sailor actually visiting all of these places reinforces the play's fairy-tale quality.

Inevitably, however, some of the Oriental settings illuminate the original text better than others. One striking incongruity occurs when, to woo his future wife, Thaisa, Pericles travels to Pentapolis, re-set in Japan. The comical fishermen he meets after being shipwrecked, however, sound like residents of the British Isles; on the other hand, such anachronisms are a standard part of how Shakespearean comedy and romance creates a mythical setting. The Knights' tournament, King Simonedes's lightly comic proverbial wisdom, and Thaisa's modest but committed devotion all work well in a Japanese setting. Even more effective is Ephesus becoming Thailand. There, in one of this productions major set pieces, Thaisa is resurrected by means of an elaborate group chant and fire dance led by Cerimon as a young, devout, vaguely Buddhist, yet somewhat eccentric, high priest. The brothels of Myteline also flourish in a comically carnival, heavily face-painted version of Bali, within which Marina's virginal innocence is strikingly beautiful and morally attractive; here, a comical world of lust is overcome by the lyrical wonder of chaste love. …