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While "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" has many Shakespearean elements, the play was clearly not penned by the Bard alone. As for the definitive collection of Shakespeare’s work, this romance was only added to his other plays in the second edition of the Third Folio (along with six other plays, none of which were written by Shakespeare).

If much of "Pericles" owes more to the Jacobean taste for the bizarre and melodramatic than the measured hand of Shakespeare, most scholars have no doubt that Shakespeare’s language does indeed take over in the latter half of the play. So, despite its questionable parentage, "Pericles" has become part of the Shakespearean canon, which makes it perfect for a company looking to make its mark with a Shakespearean play not weighted down by centuries of traditional productions.

"Pericles," Theatre for a New Audience’s BAM debut, opened at the BAM Harvey Theater on Feb. 12.

This Manhattan-based company founded and headed by Jeffrey Horowitz, adds "Pericles" to its repertoire already brimming with Shakespearean and classical drama (other productions include "Julius Caesar" in 2003, "Cymbeline" in 2002 and "Troilus and Cressida" in 2001).

"Pericles" is presented as a fable narrated by an old man named Gower (Brenda Wehle). Its title hero is a young prince who discovers the incestuous relationship between the King of Antioch (Christopher McCann) and his daughter, while seeking the daughter’s hand.

Persuaded that the king means to harm him, Pericles takes the advice of his trusted advisor Helicanus (Philip Goodwin) and begins the journey that will take him through stormy seas to foreign lands and new adventures.

In Tarsus, he helps the governor, Cleon (Robert LuPone), and his wife, Dionyza (Kristine Nielsen), save their land from famine. In Pentapolis, where he has been shipwrecked and rescued by kindly fishermen, he wins a tournament and the heart of King Simonides’ (Andrew Weems) daughter Thaisa (Linda Powell), whom he marries. But when Pericles hears that the king of Antioch and his daughter are dead, he sets sail back to Tyre with his wife, who is expecting a baby.

Again his ship is beset by a storm. Thaisa gives birth to a daughter whom Pericles names Marina, and Thaisa seemingly dies. She is put in a chest, thrown overboard and later washes ashore at Ephesus, where she is revived by a doctor named Cerimon and becomes a priestess in the service of the goddess Diana.

In the meantime, Pericles takes Marina (Julyana Soelistyo) to Tharsus and leaves her with Cleon and Dionyza.

Fourteen years pass, and for the sake of brevity, suffice it to say that the situation is satisfactorily clarified and concluded.

Bartlett Sher, who has already directed Theatre for a New Audience’s "Don Juan" (2003) and the company’s American premiere of Harley Granville Parker’s "Waste" (2000), directs "Pericles" with humor and imagination.

Sher uses a minimalist setting. He creates space through screens, curtains and an ever-present horizontal blue neon light that casts an eerie glow over the stage; he creates mood with live music played on strings and percussion.

Stormy seas are conveyed both by ominous sound effects and the swaying and surging of actors armed with long poles. And character and class are effectively portrayed by Elizabeth Caitlin Ward’s lavish, sometimes libidinous, costumes.

But Sher’s most important innovation may be his decision to cast two actors as Pericles: Tim Hopper, as the young Prince, and McCann, as the old man. This underscores the difference between Pericles and his daughter, and the King of Antioch and his daughter, whose relationships appear like two bookends on a neatly arranged bookshelf.

However, Hopper also plays Lysimachus, Governor of Mytilene, and McCann also plays both the King of Antioch and a poor man. Although this ensemble-style casting does streamline the production, and the actors deliver consistently excellent performances in all roles, it makes an already complicated plot even more difficult to follow for those who are not familiar with the play.

This Theatre for a New Audience production is exceedingly long, even for Shakespeare; it clocks in at well over three hours with only one intermission. Yet, until the very end, which would have been much improved if speeded up, the play never seems to drag.

 

Theatre for a New Audience’s production of "Pericles" plays Feb. 21 and Feb. 24-28 at 7:30 pm, and Feb. 22 at 3 pm at the BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St. between Ashland and Rockwell places in Fort Greene. Tickets are $25, $40 and $60. For tickets, call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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