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A CurtainUp Review
Yet thou dost look/Like Patience gazing on kings' graves and smiling/ Extremity out of act..— Pericles
The Cast (Photo Credit: Richard Termine)
Pericles, famously dubbed a "mouldy tale," has just been unmoulded by Rob Melrose's breezy production in the latest rendition of the Public Theater's Mobile Shakespeare Unit program. It lands at its Astor Place home for a brief sit-down run following its three-week community tour through the five boroughs. With a protean 8-member cast who perform this action-packed production in under two hours will likely appeal to all who like their Shakespeare with a splash of hip-hop and a strong beat.

If you think Pericles is a bit raw around the theatrical edges, well, just remember it was the Bard's first experiment with the romance genre. It might lack the polish of his later romances like The Winter'sTale and The Tempest but it's cut from the same dramatic cloth, including incredible coincidences and near supernatural events.

In a nutshell, it recounts the epic journey of Prince Pericles of Tyre, who travels from Antioch, to Tyre, to Tarsus, to Pentapolis, to Mytilene, and straight on to Ephesus. That's right— six geographic locales in the world of this play! And Pericles, like the Biblical Job, will experience a sea of troubles before his fortune changes.

It all begins when he solves the riddle of the killer king Antiochus and escapes sure death by fleeing his royal court. He later suffers the loss of wife and infant daughter, and sinks to utter despair, before finding regeneration through a series of miraculous events.

Although many a director steers clear of this play due to its sprawling story line and the daunting challenge of its multiple geographical settings, Melrose smooths over such difficulties by streamlining the narrative and relying on a young energetic cast and very resourceful creative team. They're not name stars but certainly deliver the Shakespearean goods and do an incredible job of insinuating themselves into the principals and the rest of the dramatis personae with quicksilver timing.

Wilson Chin's minimalist set relies more on the audience's imagination than on special effects or decor. In fact, the major props here include a wooden table on wheels, an antique-styled model ship, a huge sheet to simulate wind and waves, and a blue oriental rug. No fancy costumes but Moria Sine Clinton does wonders with acres of plain cloth that twists into turbans, classic flowing robes, and modern-styled suits to outfit the performers--and smartly fit the dramatic moment.

A lot of post-modern movement and original music (composed by Michael Thurber) punctuates the scenes, with footstools serving as makeshift drums and the stage sometimes morphing into a disco dance floor. If you ever thought Shakespeare was a playwright forever stuck in the 17th century, this lively venture will change your mind and perhaps persuade you that the Bard isn't old hat.

The real value to visiting this Pericles is, however, to remember the roots and founding impulse of the Public Theater that dates back to 1957. Its visionary founder Joseph Papp deeply believed that Shakespeare belonged to the masses and created the Mobile Shakespeare Program that gradually evolved into the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater. This new offshoot, now celebrating its fourth anniversary, embodies Papp's mission for our new millennium. Perhaps it is best summed up in a poignant comment that was included in the program notes, gleaned from a letter written by an audience member at Riker's Island Women's Facility: "You brought light to a dark place."

Pericles by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rob Melrose<
Cast: Raffi Barsoumian (Pericles); Christopher Kelly (Lysimachus, and others); Ben Mehl (Boult, and others); Flor De Liz Perez (Marina, and others); Amanda Quaid (Dionyza, and others); David Ryan Smith (Antiochus, and others); Tiffany Rachelle Stewart (Thaisa, and others); and J.D. Webster (Helicanus, and others).
Sets: Wilson Chin
Costumes: Moria Sine Clinton
Composer: Michael Thurber
Movement: Christopher Windom
Production Stage Manager
Kristen Gibbs
Stage Manager: Howard Tilkin
The Public Theater (at the Shiva Theater) at 425 Lafayette Street. Tickets: $20. 212-967-7555 or
From 11/11/14; opening 11/18/14; closing 11/30/14.
Mondays through Fridays at 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (There is no performance on Tuesday, November 18 and Thursday, November 27).
Running time: Approximately 100 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance (matinee) of 11/15/14.
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