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A CurtainUp Review

By Rob Ormsby

The Stratford Festival's Pericles transposes the Jacobean drama from the Mediterranean to North Africa and Asia with mediocre results. While the play was wildly popular in the seventeenth century, it has been disavowed by purists who question Shakespeare's involvement in this eclectic work.

The eponymous hero's (Jonathan Goad) story covers years of wearying travels -- from his aborted marriage proposal to the incestuous Princess of Antioch (Lindsay Clarke), to his shipwrecking and successful marriage to Princess Thaisa (Karen Ancheta), to the apparent deaths of Thaisa and their daughter Marina (Nazneen Contractor).

The play is geographically and emotionally wide-ranging and mixes comedy, tragedy, and what might be called melodrama with such devices as a chorus, dumb-shows, and song. While director Leon Rubin has embraced such diversity and created an ambitious, overwhelmingly lush and anachronistic spectacle, he has bitten off more than he and his uneven cast can chew.

Marina, an obviously inexperienced Contractor, is disappointing and lacks presence. The role calls for conveying a believably unshakable virtue after she is abducted and thrust into a bordello, but her righteous indignation is flat and contrived. Charles Azulay's King Simonides is undistinguished, and the same is true of Wayne Sujo's Cerimon, the Ephesian who brings Thaisa back to life.

On a more positive note, Goad does have considerable presence, and, to the extent that Rubin calls on him to make Pericles appealing to the audience as a brave and intelligent hero, he succeeds. Ancheta is a charming and resolute Thaisa to whom the audience can relate. Best of all is Thom Marriott's Gower who, with the help of two "attendants" (Jodi-Lynn McFadden and Anne Marie Ramos) to play the dumb-shows, provides the production with its one hint of an eerie, otherworldly feel. Sarah McVie as The Bawd, Kyle Blair as Pandar, and Michael Therriault as Boult, The Bawd's assistant turn in textbook comic performances built on perfect timing, masterful physical control, sheer confidence, and the time-honored underhanded trick of propositioning audience members directly.

Too bad that the strongest performances tend to exposes the overall weaknesses of the production most of which can be laid at the director's door; some examples: The staging of Pericles' most emotionally-charged moment is grossly miscalculated. While Goad is wonderful as the prince who years after he has taken his vow he sits in a massive set of blue and white robes, like the stony outcrop at a mountain summit, silently projecting the man's deep pain but as soon as he is freed from his suffering, he is directed to flounce about the stage allowing the quiet intensity he had kept bottled up to spill out in streams of banal histrionic mirth.

Another misstep is introducing a series of Asian performance styles which have been extracted from their original contexts and are presented as decorative, flashy displays. While the performers do not absolutely bungle the Asian forms of dance, movement and song, they demonstrate little expertise for these genres (all of which take years to master).

Finally, more work needed to be done with lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield to create the Silk Road aura of the romantic Orient. This is most evident in the knightly combat scene at King Simonedes' court.

To be fair Mr. Rubin more than made up for his missteps with his direction of Jean Giraudoux's Electra which has, unfortunately, closed.

For links to other Stratford Festival reviews see our Stratford Festival Page

Written By William Shakespeare
Directed by Leon Rubin

Cast: Thom Marriott, Jodi-Lynn McFadden, Anne Marie Ramos, Jonathan Goad, Donald Carrier, Robert King, Anthony Malarky, Lindsay Clarke, Caleb Marshall, Nazneen Contractor, Stephen Russell, Brigit Wilson, Les Carlson, Thom Allison, Dorian Foley, Stephen Gartner, Caleb Marshall, Charles Azulay, Karen Ancheta, Julia Fong, Kyle Blair, Robert Hamilton, Haysam Kadri, Wayne Sujo, Robert King, Peter van Gestel, Sarah McVie, Michael Therriault, K. Alexander Michael.
Set and Costume Design: John Pennoyer
Lighting Design: Michael J, Whitfield
Sound Design: Peter McBoyle
Running Time: 3 hours with 1 intermission
Stratford Festival Festival Theatre, Queen St., Stratford Ontario Telephone: 1-800-567-1600
Tues-Sun @8pm, 2pm in rep; $39.40-$94.47 (CDN), some discounts
Previewing May 24, 2003, Opening May 31, 2003, Closing October 31, 2003
Reviewed by Rob Ormsby, based on 8/16/2003 performance

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