The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey closes its 51st season with a sparkling and wintery new production of Shakespeare’s Pericles. Performances run through December 29th at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Ave. (at Lancaster Road) in Madison. Inspired by ancient Greek mythology, Pericles is Shakespeare’s grand “once upon a time” adventure tale with equal parts One Thousand and One Nights, Homer’s Odyssey, and the episodic romance of Shakespeare’s own The Tempest, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale. Pericles carries audiences on a voyage across the ancient Mediterranean, encountering everyone from kings, goddesses, pirates, pimps, and magicians along the way. Pictured: Governor Cleon of Tarsus and his scheming wife Dionyza (left: Clark Scott Carmichael and Jacqueline Antaramian) deliver tragic news to Pericles (Jon Barker). Photo: ©Jerry Dalia, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.
Daniel J. Rowe
Few theatre companies delve into the lesser-known Bard play Pericles, and what’s up with that? There are pirates! The Shakespeare Theatre Company of New Jersey, however, has done the right thing and dove right in. Director Brian B. Crowe spoke with the Bard Brawl about the company’s reasons for staging Pericles, and some of the ideas the production followed. The production runs until January 29, 2013.
Bard Brawl: Why did the theatre decide to do Pericles, such and obscure play?
Brian B. Crowe: We are first and foremost a theatre that is excited about classics of all ilks – specifically Shakespeare – but we will also try lesser known pieces as well, and there are some lesser known Shakespeares as well and that certainly falls into that category.
This particular season we were looking for something for the holiday spot, and I had workshopped a production of Pericles with some of our students a few years ago, and didn’t know much about it prior to that, and kind of fell in love with the magic of it, and the intrigue and the great resolution at the end; this family reunited, good wins out, and there’s honour in it and the bad guys get what they deserve, which doesn’t always happen in real life so it’s nice to have it on stage once and a while.
B.B.: …and there are pirates!
Pictured: In the colorful kingdom of Pentapolis, Pericles (Jon Barker) battles a knight (Jordan Laroya) during Princess Thaisa’s birthday tournament. Photo: ©Jerry Dalia, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.
B.C.: …and there are pirates, and there’s incest and there’s a brothel, which is everything you need for the holidays.
B.B.: Was it a challenge to introduce the audience to the play? Did you get a lot of reaction right away? When you do Romeo and Juliet, you know it’s going to be packed. When you do Pericles, a lot of producers/directors might be a little nervous they won’t get the audience.
B.C.: We have a pretty exciting audience in the fact that they love to come to the smorgasbord of things that we’ll give them and they’ve got a well-refined palate, I guess you could say. They know that whatever piece we do we will find some form of elegance and artistry to bring to it. Obviously the play itself has it.
It’s mainly just really pushing the fact that we’ve all seen A Christmas Carol 9,000 times, we’ve all seen the Nutcracker. I can’t even tell you how many variations of A Christmas Carol I’ve seen; some of them are great, some of them are really not.
A lot of people want an alternative to it.
We had an audience member who said, ‘I had no idea what I was coming to.’ She said she had been to the theatre before and like the work that we did. Pericles could have been anything to her. She sat down in the theatre and she said, ‘let’s see what happens.’
She had a blast, and she said it was not a problem to follow. We actually changed up the Gower narrator to be a three-woman chorus that is present throughout the entire show as opposed to him just popping in throughout the show. They become extensions of the goddess Diana. She said for her particularly that was a great way to navigate the show and she had a blast.
B.B.: With Shakespeare you can always pull themes out of the play. You mentioned the Gower theme of honour and duplicity and how to conduct yourself as a ruler. How did you explore that issue as far as Pericles trying to understand how to react?
B.C.: One of the things that we talked about very early on in the rehearsal process was the journey of Pericles and how he starts off as this young ambitious sort of 20-something at the beginning of the play out to make his mark in the world: I’m going to win this evil king’s daughter because she’s beautiful and no one else can, and that’s going to become my claim to fame. That will be the legend people will tell about me.
Pictured: Heroic Pericles (Jon Barker) embarks on an adventure unlike any other, under the watchful eyes of the Chorus (left to right: Amaya Murphy, Corey Tazmania, Meg Kiley Smith). Photo: ©Jerry Dalia, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.
That kind of young, youthful approach to life. Literally just seeking adventure and honour for adventure and honour’s sake not for necessity.
It’s interesting for being a young king, he doesn’t do much ruling throughout the play. He’s off to get Hesperites and that doesn’t work out, he then has to run for his life so he’s not being the ruler again, then he helps out Tarsus which is great, so he does something and he’s actually honoured there. In this production, when we’re navigating it through, we kind of said, ‘well this is an honour that you’re looking for, this is something that you were looking for,’ and the approach was humbled and that’s not kind of legendary. That’s not what he was looking for, but he sees that he can actually do good in the world instead of just doing good for himself.
…and then he has another disaster, and then he falls in love and loses that love, and then he becomes a more mature and better king through the trials that he’s gone through…
By the end, when he thinks he’s lost his daughter as well, he has the ability to truly respect the relationships that he sort of went willy nilly for.
It’s like someone going on the bachelor and thinking they’re going to find marriage and true love because it’s a big show and this is what it is, Then, 30 or 40 years later actually finding it.
I think it’s (the play) very contemoparary and works for modern audience because it’s all about instant gratification, and that’s not what life is about. Life is about finding these moments – especially during the holidays where you can look back on your life, look back on your relationships – and this is a wonderful happy ending, but it takes 15 years to get there and realize what he has.
The honour and the legend that he hopes to be, that he starts the first scene with, he actually does win in the end.
BRIAN B. CROWE (Acting) is in his eighteenth season with The Shakespeare Theatre where he is currently the Director of Education. Mr. Crowe also directs in-school residencies, teaches in the Summer Professional Training Program, and works with the Junior and Senior Shakespeare Corps for the Theatre. The Star-Ledger called Mr. Crowe “one of the state’s most ingenious directors” for his work on Love’s Labour’s Lost and named him Best Director of a Drama (Julius Caesar and Wonderland) as well as one of three “theatre artists to look for in the new millennium.”Other directing credits includeRed Herring and A Perfect Ganesh at 12 MilesWest; Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest (DayTony recipient), Noises Off, the Midwest regional premiere of The Beauty Queen of Leenane andPatient A with The Human Race Theatre Company,where he is currently a resident artist;Somewhere in Between and Children of a Lesser God at Dayton Playhouse. Mr. Crowe received BFA degrees indirecting and acting from Wright State University, and was a Fellow at the 2000International Salzburg Shakespeare Seminar.