A CurtainUp Review
Nunn rightly spins the protagonist into an Odysseus figure who encounters disasters, shipwrecks, the loss of a wife and daughte, and many other privations before his fortune reverses and his splintered political and personal life become whole again. And you won't hear any stage machinery clunking here. Nunn revamps this play that the envious Ben Jonson called a " mouldy tale" by adapting some flatly-written scenes and adding vibrant music and songs by Shaun Davey.
Pericles is an outlier in Shakespeare's canon. Omitted from the celebrated First Folio, the text only comes down to us via a " bad" quarto. And though it is always attributed to Shakespeare, most critics today accept it as a collaboration with George Wilkins, who likely wrote the inferior first and second acts. Textual and authorship questions aside, however, the play has been a crowd pleaser over the years. And with Nunn's smart new production on the New York boards, Pericles is likely to get a fresh bump in popularity.
When it comes to the acting, you won't see any performer chewing the scenery to shreds. And there's a reason for it. Although there are many characters listed in the dramatis personae, all the actors here are actually assuming roles.
Even Camargo playing the eponymous hero doesn't carve out a real personality for his royal. Yes, his Pericles is a good analyst of riddles (the incestuous King Antiochus presents the most conspicuous one), courageous during shipwrecks, and patient as the biblical Job. But Camargo deliberately emphasizes the virtues, not the idiosyncrasies, of the prince as he struggles to acquire a family and become a worthy ruler. In short, Camargo disappears into his role and lets the larger play come into focus.
The entire ensemble performs in much the same vein. Rather than seeing anybody barnstorming, you watch each performer insinuate himself (or herself) into the given part. Even Raphael Nash Thompson as the medieval poet Gower succeeds by not overplaying his part. He acts and sings with undeniable brio as he recites his prologues to the various scenes, but he also knows how to move seamlessly into the shadows of the performing area and let the play's action take over.
Other actors turn in fine performances too. Gia Crovatin inhabits Pericles' wife Thaisa with grit and grace. Lilly Englert, in the crucial role of Marina, gives a very intelligent performance as Pericle's savior daughter. And a shout out to Oberon Adjepong, Patrice Chevannes, and John Keating as Pandar, Bawd, and Boult, respectively. The trio add a great deal of comic flavor to the brothel scene.
The production values are all in sync too. Robert Jones' set is dominated by a huge circular sculpture that visually reflects the tone of each scene and particular situation. In its elegant simplicity, it allows you to focus on the stage action and eliminates the need for any time-consuming set changes in this fable where our sea-tossed hero travels throughout the Mediterranean. Stephen Strawbridge's lighting is well-done, and Constance Hoffman's period costumes are spot-on.
Nunn's days of being boy wonder at the Royal Shakespeare Company (he was the youngest artistic director to hold the prestigious post) may be long gone, but he's still very much a game changer. Pericles is his first ever American staging of Shakespeare. And those who see this production will be part of something very special.