Curtain Calls: â??PERICLESâ? Blown Back On Course

Who knows how long â??Pericles: Prince of Tyreâ?, that literary child of many fathers, might wander the oceans of lost and drowning works if it didnâ??t bear the fingerprints of Mr. Shakespeare? This romantic-tragic-comic adventure story, lacking the legitimacy of certain parentage, didnâ??t make it into the First Folio, but can point to well-received performances by The Kingâ??s Men to boost its historical image.

Eleven years ago â??Periclesâ? drifted out of the region, and has now surfaced at the Folger. This Oregon Shakespeare Festival production under the direction of Joseph Haj breathes vibrant life into a difficult play. What reads on the page like a flatly sprawling and highly improbable morality tale has undergone a sea change. â??Periclesâ? at the Folger is pure enchantment.

The wandering prince himself has plenty of rocky shoals to negotiate before coming, at last, to the requisite safe harbor. Escaping a wicked kingâ??s wrath, Pericles endures not one but two shipwrecks, saves a starving country, marries a princess, loses the princess, leaves his infant daughter with a queen he trusted â?? but shouldnâ??t have â?? thereâ??s more, of course. Pirates! Prostitution! Revival from death! And the benign intervention of the goddess Diana to rescind his losses.

The key to making this work, as the OSF well knows, is to embrace it. Let the story flower with what it is instead of trying to make it something it isnâ??t. Itâ??s not â??King Lear.â? Itâ??s not â??The Odyssey.â? But â??Periclesâ? is more than just an adventure story that applies magic where needed; it requires the imaginative powers of top-notch actors and technicians to show just how fearlessly playful it can be.

Doubling, sometimes tripling, by all but two cast members contributes to a lithe, improvisational atmosphere of creative energy. Jennie Greenberry, who initially appears as the smoldering, tattooed daughter of incest, reappears later as the beautiful and steadfastly virtuous daughter, Marina. Another yin/yang pairing occurs with Brooke Parks as Thaisa, the shyly flirtatious princess who marries Pericles and bears Marina, and an authentic portrayal of Dionyza, the jealous adoptive mother who seeks Marinaâ??s death.

Lords play fishermen, fishermen play pirates â?? and oh, what pirates, complete with eye patches, cutlasses and â??ARrrrs!â? Perhaps the most eye-catching triple play is Michael Humeâ??s performance as the respectable Helicanus, followed by a dull-witted fisherman, followed by a Bawdy House Bawd to out-bawd the bawds. Perched on stacked gold shoes with knee laces, mountainous bosom barely concealed in voluminous puckered nylon, an orange Greco-beehive wig and permanently rouged cheeks, Bawdâ??s spectacular sluttishness sets off the innocence of the captive Marina, furthering the contrast of her shaming potential customers into a desire (however temporary) for self-improvement.

And then thereâ??s Pericles. Wayne Carr does more than justice to this role â?? he defines it. From the youthful flight for his life, near death at sea, love, disasters, and finally a bereaved old age awaiting redemption, every moment is a study in finding truth. He is neither too handsome nor too heroic a prince. He succeeds with grace, suffers with humanity, and drives the final restoration scene with heartbreaking tenderness. Others will play Pericles; this is the one you will remember.

â??Periclesâ?, borrowed in large part from a much earlier Greek story, also owed a debt to the 15th century poet John Gower. Shakespeare acknowledges him with the role of â??Gowerâ?, a one-man Greek Chorus who introduces scenes, fills in information, and asks our indulgence. Darcy Danielson as Gower brings a twinkling, born story-teller affect to his delivery. Delicate strings and keyboard musicians stage right accentuate the action with original music and lyrics by Jack Herrick, understated and evocative. Jan Chambersâ?? scene design fills the intimate Folger space with sea greys and, in one memorable scene, drenches the stage with billowing blue-green silk waves with which the drowning Pericles must contend. Rancesca Talentiâ??s projected video creates one overwhelming scene of ocean storm to which the body of Thaisa must be surrendered. Those on the front rows will find it hard not to duck.

Lights by Rui Rita integrate fluidly with every moment, and Raquel Barretoâ??s costumes suggest a simple, classical connection to the storyâ??s ancient origins.

No one argues for the originality of this play or for new lessons â?? there are none.

Scholars may prod it for insights into character or new meanings about life, but are not rewarded. One thing â??Periclesâ? offers that is rarely found in the rest of the canon is redemption â?? the fulfillment of a wish to regain that which was once thought hopelessly lost. The OSF production delivers all that with a vision that is timeless.

Maggie Lawrence is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. She is a retired English and drama teacher.

WANT TO GO?

What: Shakespeareâ??s â??Periclesâ?

Where: Folger Shakespeare Library

Call: (202) 544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu/theatre

Playing through Dec. 20