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Theatre Review by James Wilson - February 26, 2024

Devin E. Haqq and Emily Young
Photo by Austin Ruffer
For Shakespearian scholars, Pericles, Prince of Tyre remains a profoundly enigmatic work. While some historians have attributed sole authorship to Shakespeare, most now agree that he wrote about half of the play (with the other half written in collaboration with dramatist and folklorist George Wilkins). However, the question of authorship is just one of the play's thorny issues. Structurally, the text seems fragmentary and disjointed as the episodic scenes traverse several locales and span about two decades. Additionally, while classified as a tragicomedy, even by Jacobean standards, the coincidences are practically farcical.

Fiasco Theater's Pericles (presented in a co-production with Classic Stage Company) does not attempt to gloss over the play's shortcomings nor does it take pains to create a boldly coherent work. Instead, the talented ensemble leans into and gleefully revels in the dramatically schizophrenic text. In the process, audiences are treated to a buoyant and endlessly inventive performance.

Directed by Ben Steinfeld, the version presented here makes judicious cuts to the original, and running just over two hours with intermission, the brisk staging never flags. The cast includes nine protean actors who take on a few dozen roles. In fact, Pericles is played by four different performers, and like an athletic relay race, an individual hands off the part to another as the character moves through the various phases of his life. (Admittedly, the first hand-off is rather confusing, but then the intentions become clearer.)

When we first meet Pericles (played initially by Paco Tolson), the young prince is engaged in a competitive riddle to marry the daughter of King Antiochus (Noah Brody, who later plays Pericles). When Pericles realizes that he is in a no-win situation with the incestuous king and his daughter, he flees Tyre under the advice of his trusted friend and advisor Helicanus (Paul L. Coffey).

During the voyage, Pericles (now played by Tatiana Wechsler) becomes shipwrecked, and he finds himself in a foreign land, Pentapolis. There, he wins the hand of the beautiful Princess Thaisa (Jessie Austrian), the daughter of King Simonides (Andy Grotelueschen). When Pericles receives word that he has been named the king of Tyre, he sets off once again, this time with his pregnant wife, to return home. Thaisa gives birth to their baby amidst a terrible storm at sea, and while the baby is safe, Thaisa presumably dies in childbirth. The sailors place her body in a casket and release it to the sea. Fortunately, a doctor finds the floating coffin and revives the unconscious queen.

Because of the tempestuous waters, Pericles entrusts his daughter Marina with a wealthy family, intending to return to retrieve her later. As a teenager, Marina (Emily Young) encounters several misfortunes and is presumed to be dead. Alas, many years later and through a series of fateful incidents, the older Pericles (Devin E. Haqq) is reunited with his adult daughter and long-lost wife.

Serving as both narrator and minstrel performer, Steinfeld (who also provided the insouciant and folksy songs) establishes a playful tone and helps elucidate the knotty twists and turns of the plot. More impressively, he and the ingratiating cast draw on an array of theatrical devices to bring the fantastical storybook world of the play to life. They are well supported by a resourceful design team that effortlessly moves the narrative from "shore to shore, region to region" and through "each several clime."

With just a series of moveable boxes, a wooden casket (that takes on several different functions in the production), pole lanterns, and a large, flowing silk cloth, the actors creatively convey luxurious palaces, violent tempests, and a sordid brothel. (There is no scenic designer credited, but Sarah Pencheff-Martin supervised the properties, Mextly Couzin designed the striking lighting effects, and Ashley Rose Horton provided the medieval-inspired costumes that traveling players might wear.)

Pericles is rarely performed, and this rendering makes a strong case for its viability. Indeed, it is always a pleasure to attend a Fiasco production, and once again this estimable company reminds us of the pleasures of going to the theatre.

Through March 24, 2024
Fiasco Theater / Classic Stage Company
Lynn F. Angelson Theater, 136 E 13th Street
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