The little-produced Shakespeare play “Pericles” is pretty much bonkers, and this new production leans right into it.
“Pericles” feels more like an forerunner of an action movie than the poetic drama we expect from the Bard of Avon. The production currently running at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, from celebrated British director Trevor Nunn, working with an American cast for the first time, fills every inch of the stage with vivid colors and original music.
The plot is packed: During the show’s two hours and 45 minutes, we get three shipwrecks, two foiled assassinations, a joust for the hand of a princess, a pirate kidnapping, the 17th-century equivalent of trafficked sex workers, a burial at sea, a famine, an incestuous king struck by lightning, and a hero constantly on the run from would-be killers. The poet Gower (Raphael Nash Thompson) sonorously narrates the action as if it were a Grimm’s fairy tale. Nunn has reassigned some dialogue and added a few lines — which stuck out a bit, to my ear — to make the poet a master of ceremonies, guiding the action with a cluster of musicians at his beck and call. The narration and the music give the evening an archetypal, folk-tale feel.
The actors, led by Thompson and Christian Camargo’s Pericles, have a fine sense of when to keep it simple and when to indulge in a little scenery-chewing for comic or melodramatic effect. Two of the villains, the incestuous Antiochus (Earl Baker) and a wicked foster mother (Nina Hellman) are deliciously bombastic. The boldly colored costumes, live music, and clever design give the piece a bright freshness. But there is so much journeying hither and yon, and so much parallel action in different locations, that any deeper themes get obscured. Still, there are plenty of incidental pleasures: the parade of knights vying in the jousting tourney; the genuinely touching reunion between Pericles and his daughter after 16 years of separation; and the racy brothel scenes — especially a terrifically entertaining sequence in which a madam (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) and her enforcer (John Keating) attempt to turn the virtuous Marina (Lilly Englert) into a prostitute, but are defeated by her implacable goodness.
It hardly feels like Shakespeare, but it is thoroughly enjoyable.
“Pericles” at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center [262 Ashland Place between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street in Fort Greene, (212) 229–2819, www.tfana.org]. Through March 27, Tue–Fri at 7:30 pm, Sat at 2 pm and 7:30 pm, Sun at 2 pm. $75–$100.