Convoluted Perhaps Pericles defies easy understanding, yet is often funny

You'd think that a play would be absolutely riveting if it included two ship wrecks, incest, death, an innocent young woman sold into slavery in a brothel, and a final wondrous reuniting of a family.

These are just some of the things that happen in Perhaps Pericles, the re-working of a play written by William Shakespeare and George Wilkins, who were contemporaries. The play those olde dudes wrote, Pericles, is rarely done and for a damn good reason—it's a mess.

Written in verse and clotted with plotting detritus, it's often hard to pull apart what's happening. The language (much of it, one assumes, authored by the less-than-iconic Wilkins) is often torturously dense and defiantly indecipherable.

Indeed, there aren't enough breadcrumbs in all the warehouses of General Mills to help the audience find its way back through this maze.

The storyline, at least the parts that can be pieced together, involves Pericles, the prince of Tyre, who tries to win the hand of King Antiochus' daughter. But learning of their incestuous relationship and fearing for his life, Pericles flees and is eventually shipwrecked. He washes up in Pentapolis, where he bids for another hand, that of King Simonides' daughter Thaisa.

After that, Thaisa dies in childbirth (but doesn't), Pericles' daughter Marina is sold out as a prostitute (but isn't), and Thaisa, Marina and Pericles all find each other, alive and well (which the script admits is, well, ridiculous). And it's all narrated by Gower, who also serves as a chorus.

With all that convoluted storytelling this show is, miraculously, often quite funny. This is because the adaptation by director Greg Cesear utilizes a clever gambit in the first act.. Four present-day actors—David (who doubles as director), Mark, Vicki and Susan—are rehearsing Pericles, and they argue and snipe at each other as they deliver their obscure lines.

One running joke is over the pronunciation of the city of Tyre (tire? tie-ear?). Okay, it's not vintage Neil Simon, but it's amusing in context. More significantly, they argue over the character of Pericles. He often seems a cipher, an everyman who is buffeted by forces beyond his control.

In one of his more telling speeches Pericles says, "I see that time is the king of men, for he's the parent and he is the grave/And he gives them what he will, not what they crave."

That's an "ah-ha!" bit of clarity in a play that has precious few of them, and far too many "umm-huh?" moments. Staged with extreme minimalism on a tiny stage, the audience is required to imagine ships crashing onto rocks, elaborate palaces and seedy whorehouses since there are precious few visual clues as to time or place.

That said, the four performers are immensely likable in both their modern guises and as the multiple characters they portray.

John Kolibab makes for an often befuddled Mark who plays the equally confused but approachable protagonist. His Pericles is bouncing along life's journey like a pinball being whacked in various directions by the fates.  

The roles of David, Gower and some of the kings are played by Gilgamesh Taggett with a stern visage and Shakespearian pipes, and he dominates the stage in most of his scenes. Tricia Bestic is equally good as Vicki, animating her character's roles with as much precision as the script allows. And Rachel Wolin is particularly affecting as young Marina.

This production offers word clusters in volleys as it spins tales that are visible in their outlines but resistant to close analysis. So if you love theater that takes bashes your brain and boldly going where no other theater would tread, then this Cesear's Forum work will definitely comb thy noodle with a three-legged stool.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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