Perils, Pirates, Prostitutes, and the Peculiarity of “Pericles”

Omar Robinson, Johnny Lee Davenport*, and Johnnie McQuarley in the foreground, with Jesse Hinson* (Pericles) and the cast in the background.
Photo: Stratton McCrady Photography

Presented by Actor’s Shakespeare Project
by William Shakespeare
directed by Allyn Burrows

The Modern Theatre at Suffolk University
525 Washington St., Boston
April 17 – May 12, 2013
ASP Facebook Page

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Boston) It’s easy to see why Pericles, Prince of Tyre isn’t one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays.  The plot is often as lost at sea as the titular character, who drifts from one melodramatic episode to the next on an unending voyage.  Pericles’ journey begins with villainous incest and the threat of death and, after abandoning this thread, continues on to tragic storms, kidnappings, and brothels.  Taking on this play means a potential mess.

Though the material isn’t the strongest in the Shakespeare canon (where, due to a question of authorship concerning the earlier acts, Pericles’ place remains disputed), most of the cast take full advantage of the tonal disparity.  They work hard to connect with the audience.  Actors’ Shakespeare Project really tries to have fun with this one and it shows.

Among the skilled ensemble, Johnny Lee Davenport stands out as Helicanus and in a host of other parts.  Earlier this year, I saw Davenport own multiple roles in The Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Invisible Man.  Here, he again breathes life, humor, and a sense of individuality into each character he portrays, whether he’s Prince Pericles’ confidant, a knight, a fisherman, or a pirate.  Similar looking costumes, unfortunately, sometimes left me in doubt as to which character I was looking at until Davenport, and others in the cast juggling numerous parts, like Omar Robinson, Bobbie Steinbech, and Gabriel Kuttner, opened their mouths.  It’s a distraction.

Pericles, played by Jesse Hinson, approaches his part capably.  As a prince, he’s dignified and appropriately grave when he learns his potential wife is having an affair with her own father, King Antiochus (Gabriel Kuttner).  Pericles sails away from the kingdom but encounters trouble on the waves.  When Hinson plays a castaway washed up on foreign, suspiciously American-looking shores, Hinson’s whole character changes, and he instead brings out the lightness and humor of his new situation.

Because of the bumpy, moody nature of the play, Pericles disappears for the majority of the dark second half.  Instead, the main character becomes Marina (Elizabeth Rimar).  Rimar grabs hold of the drama with all the flare of a gothic heroine.  She often appears to be in her element, whether singing or navigating the dangers of the corrupt world Pericles also tries so hard to flee.  Rimar’s battle of wills against a brothel’s madam, Bawd (Bobbie Steinbach), is impressive.

Others, like Michael Forden Walker who plays Cleon and Simonides, don’t seem to flow half as well with the rest of the play.  The chemistry of director Allyn Burrows’ ensemble is really what defines this production.  When the characters don’t click, it doesn’t work, but when they do, the cast ignites the audience, selling an over-the-top story with all the flare and charm it deserves.

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