From bitter experience, I can tell you one thing for certain about “seldom-performed” plays by Shakespeare: they’re generally seldom performed for very good reason. (Have you ever, say, sat through a production of King John?)
Rules like this, though, are meant to be shattered. The new production of Pericles that opened last weekend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is magic from start to finish.
The play has a challenging history. Scholars’ best guess is that the first two acts were basically written by another Elizabethan playwright, George Wilkins, with Shakespeare writing most of the last three. Whoever was the author, Pericles was a big hit in Shakespeare’s own time; these days it’s not seen as one of his major works, as the characters are a bit cartoonish and the plot is as simple as a children’s story (if not necessarily appropriate for small kids).
This new production plays on those presumed flaws, giving the story of Pericles and his travels the luminous feel of a fairy tale.
The show is directed in the festival’s intimate Thomas Theatre by Joseph Haj, who this winter was selected as artistic director at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Haj has turned the improbable and disconnected story of the script into a fast-moving, smart and music-infused odyssey of love, loss and redemption; the story makes considerably more sense as a dreamscape.
Wayne T. Carr, who was Caliban in last season’s Tempest, portrays a very human Pericles; Brook Parks is his wife, Thaisa, and Jennie Greenberry, their daughter, Marina, who are among the lost and found characters of the plot.
All is played out on a spare, open set by Jan Chambers, with video projections – particularly good in a rousing ocean storm scene – by Francesca Talenti.
Original music composed by Jack Herrick helps move the show right along; the addition of songs nicely reflects the opening line of the play: “To sing a song that old was sung….”
February 26 – November 1
By William Shakespeare | Directed by Joseph Haj