A Review of Pericles

pericles2by Matthew Falduto
Photos by Bob Goodfellow

Iowa City – Riverside returns to the park! I cannot express how happy I am that Riverside has chosen to again offer to us excellent theatre outdoors as the sun sets. There’s really nothing like it and we’re so fortunate to have a beautiful outdoor theatre where we can enjoy Shakespearean plays. Riverside’s latest production of Pericles is chock full of excellent actors creating an emotional and thrilling tale.

I have to admit I did not know this less well known Shakespearean play. I read a brief synopsis before the show so I was certain I’d be able to follow the action. Pericles must leave his home because he knows the mad king Antiochus’ secret and the king knows he knows. Pericles is shipwrecked (twice!), meets a girl and falls in love, and then loses the girl and their child. Will they be reunited? You’ll have to check out the show to find out.

Excellent acting permeates the show. A number of the actors play multiple roles and do so with excellent attention to detail. Patrick Du Laney portrays two wildly different characters – the evil and majestic Antiochus and the slovenly brothel master Pander. He uses his physicality to differentiate the two roles – a ramrod straight posture for Antiochus contrasts nicely with tottering yet still malevolent gait of Pander. His voice is different for each as well. Antiochus’ words are often clipped, while he draws out some of Pander’s lines. Another actor who really stood out was Rian Jairell, who portrayed three characters – the assassin Thailard, the kingly Simonides, and the villain Boult. Again, he physically transformed to portray the stooped Boult, moving with an ambling and animalistic gait. You might remember Jairell from Line of Descent earlier this year, where he also gave an impressive performance. I also really enjoyed Emelia Pinamang Asiedu’s performance Thaisa. Asiedu brings a sweetness to Thasia that makes it easy to see why Pericles falls in love with her.

Dennis William Grimes, who portrays Pericles, offers a gripping performance as the prince adrift both literally and figuratively in this piece. Grimes has an excellent command of the Shakespearean language, making it understandable to our 21st century ears. He imbues Pericles with strong emotions pulling us into his adventure.

As the daughter of Pericles, Natalie Dickens is strong and effective in the challenging brothel scenes. The final scene with Pericles and Marina is beautifully done, evoking emotional responses from the audience. It’s an impressive display of vulnerability and emotion from two fantastic actors.

Smart directing choices from Christine Kellogg help make the show a winner as well. For instance, she uses actors as scenery in some of the scenes. It’s particularly effective in the brothel scene as two actors portray prostitutes hanging lazily out of windows. They have no lines; they are just there to remind us where we are. I also greatly enjoyed the scene where various suitors showed up hoping to the win the hand of Simonedes’ daughter. It was bit of a nod to our modern dating shows like the Bachelorette, and was played effectively for laughs as each suitor marched on stage and showed off his attributes. Later in that scene, we are treated to some fun dancing as part of the party. These lighter moments helped carry us along through the more tragic elements of the show.

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There were a couple of unusual choices that didn’t help the production. One was the choice to have only Pericles age from the first to second act. Grimes wears a somewhat ridiculous beard and a full head of white hair (which was off putting since it appears the actor is starting to lose his hair.) However, none of the other characters appear to have aged at all. I suppose it might have been an attempt to suggest that the emotional pain Pericles is suffering is impacting his physical self…but it really just came off as an inconsistent choice and was distracting.
The other uncomfortable moments came during the brothel scene. This episode is effectively played for humor and the actors bring their considerable skills to bear and create some really funny moments. However, the underlying action behind all of it is eventual rape of the virgin daughter of Pericles. It creates an uncomfortable situation when we are encouraged to laugh with the villains one minute and then watch them attempt rape shortly thereafter. The choice to play up the humor may not have been the best option.
The technical elements are all top notch. Sound designer Frank Thomas uses music effectively to highlight the action. The sounds effects even transported us to a stormy ocean. I was also impressed with how just a few pieces of rope, the actors created the feeling of being on a sailing ship during the storm. Scenic Designer Shelley Ford’s use of different colored curtains to indicate different locations worked really well. David Thayer’s lighting design highlighted the emotions of the various scenes.
Overall, this an excellent production of Pericles and I strongly encourage you to check it out. Who knows when we might have another opportunity to see this lesser known Shakespearean play? The show runs through July 7. Tickets are available here.
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One thought on “A Review of Pericles

  1. Pingback: A Review of Fair Maid |

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