Shakespeare's "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" is an enchanting production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland. This seems to be the most unusual of Shakespeare's plays, accepting that he did, indeed, write it, and is certainly the most musical. The action is carried throughout by a mystical Chorus which describes the scene which is then acted out. They are dressed mostly in white robes with masks that appear to be goggles. Their dialogue is half song, half chant, and the spoken dialogue takes on a chant like quality in response to it. The actual play seems to be a series of vignettes that are interrelated and tell of the Prince's adventures. It almost anticipates Wagner, with the chorus as a leitmotif for Pericles.
The play opens in the court of King Antiochus, where Pericles has come to solve the riddle and win the hand of his daughter. He solves it alright, and is appalled to learn of the incest between father and daughter. He wants no part of this, and escapes in fear for his life. Back in Tyre, he decides he better leave before Antiochus makes war on his people to get back at him. When the assassin overhears that he has fled by sea, he is certain enough of his death to report back to Antiochus.
The gray robed Chorus chants a dirge in Tarsus. Women hold covered babies, and the Governor, Cleon and his wife Dionyza mourn the famine that is annihilating their land. When Pericles' ship lands he brings wheat to feed them. Instead of their adulation, he simply wants thanks. After setting out again, his ship wrecks, and he's washed up on shore in Pentapolis, where he's befriended by three fishermen. They tell him of good King Simonides and the tourney that will be staged for the hand of his daughter. They catch his rusty armor in their nets. They give it to him after he tells them how his father gave it to him, and he promises to take them with him and give them advantage if he wins. After all of the suitors present themselves, Pericles rushes in stumbling, and elegantly kneels before Thaisa. Everybody laughs at him, but she has fallen in love, and describes him "...as a diamond to glass."
For the most part, the set is very simple with a bronze wall at the back that gives the feeling of ancient bas relief, but is not. The panels open at various angles for different effects, and for the court at Pentapolis, red streamers and banners decorate the stage. The ancient costumes fit the action throughout. G.Valmont Thomas is a magnetic King Simonides. After he dismisses the suitors, he upbraids Thaisa for being so bold as to choose her own husband, even though, he snickers in an aside, that he's also his choice. This humorous banter continues until she flies into Pericles' arms and they embrace passionately.
When word comes that Antiochus and
his daughter have been killed, Pericles resolves to return to Tyre.
Their daughter is born at sea, and Thaisa appears to be dead. The
sailors prevail upon Pericles to cast the body overboard to stop the
wrath of the sea. Among other things, he places a scroll in her
casket telling who she is and what happened. Her coffin washes
ashore, and the Healer, Cerimon finds the scroll. She starts to read,
and in one of several supernatural moments, Pericles picks up the
reading in an amplified voice. He is seen ethereally back lit behind
a cloth at the back of the stage. Thaisa is resuscitated by Cerimon
and enters the Temple of Diana.
Pericles names his daughter Marina and entrusts her and her nurse Lychorida to Cleon and Dionyza. As Marina grows and wins renown, Dionyza becomes jealous and has her killed. Marina pleads with the assassin Leonine. Three black robed figures are at the back of the stage. They become pirates and kidnap Marina before Leonine kills her and he reports her death to Dionyza. The pirates sell her to a brothel. We have brightly colored streamers and gaudy costumes. Catherine Lynn Davis as Bawd does almost a Dromeo reprise. She swaggers, shouts, cajoles, and pleads with Marina to enjoy the pleasure of her new life, but the virtuous girl preaches to all the customers to do the right thing and drives all the men away.
Pericles, upon finding that Marina is dead is distraught and vows never to speak again. He is prostrate on the floor in dark rags and wrapped in a dark gray streamer. Lysimachus, the Governor of Mytilene has befriended Marina and brought her to Tyre to try to cheer Pericles with her music. As she relates her story, it becomes apparent she is his daughter. The two are reunited in a wildly touching scene, as he thought her dead. Pericles is exhausted. When he falls asleep, the Godess Diana appears to him in a dream. She tells him to go the her temple at Ephesus, where he finds Thaisa, and all three are reunited in a joyous scene.
Richard Howard is a stupendous Pericles. We feel the extreme joys and sadness. He's bold and good, contemplative and just. Laird Williamson's production is simple but exotic and all ends happily in this enchanting production of "Pericles, Prince of Tyre." It continues in The Angus Bowmer Theater at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, through October 30.