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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
NYTimes Review of Pericles Production
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1258  Monday, 23 June 2003

From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Saturday, 21 Jun 2003 08:51:08 -0400
Subject:        NYTimes Review of Pericles Production

In Antiquity, the Stuff of Dreams

June 18, 2003
By MARGO JEFFERSON

We all need to believe that our lives are worth living. Romance and
melodrama speak to that need and take it one step further: these genres,
with their fantastic happenings, call up the extremes beneath the
everyday. They help us believe that our lives make stories worth
telling.

Shakespeare's "Pericles" is a series of extravagant stories with such
improbably happy endings that the hero himself must cry out:

     Give me a gash, put me to present pain,
     Lest this great
     sea of joys rushing upon me
     O'erbear the shores of my mortality
     And drown me with
     their sweetness.

Improbable yes, and enchanting. People are at the mercy of nature and of
one another's worst impulses. Some critics belittle the play's episodic
quality, but those episodes are packed with action and feeling. The
actions are extreme: murder and incest, storms and famine. So are the
emotions, which run from envy and brutish lust to love and loyalty
undying. The characters don't need much psychological parsing. Their
motives aren't ambiguous or contradictory. This one is generous and
bold; that one is calculating and weak; a third one is high-minded and
outspoken.

People in the play go through trials almost beyond human endurance. And
since "Pericles" is a romance, their rewards must be beyond human
expectations. They long for a world of loving families and just rulers,
a world in which nature is benign. But only miracles - sudden rescues,
extreme coincidence, divine intervention - can achieve this.

These stories are framed by another gentler tale.  Shakespeare wrote his
"Pericles" around 1608 (in collaboration with George Wilkins, most
scholars believe).  It begins with an old man who walks onstage and
tells us he is back from the dead, "to sing a song that old was sung."
He is the 14th-century poet John Gower. The popular legend of Pericles
dates back centuries, and Gower's version was a primary source for
Shakespeare.

Old Gower is also that universal figure, the bard from an ancient world
where tales were sung and spoken before they were written down. All of
which is lovely to think on, but doesn't matter much if we can't feel
that we enter a dream space when the play starts.

In fact we do feel this from the first moment of the Red Bull Theater's
production, which is at the Culture Project in the East Village through
June 26. The Culture Project has two levels, and the lower one seems a
vast space with six mammoth columns, a brick ceiling and a thick gray
cement floor. White pillows are scattered around the perimeter. Gower
(the benevolent Raphael Nash Thompson) is all in white with graying hair
and beard. Holding a big leather-bound book with gold lettering, he
acknowledges us with a small smile and kneels down. Two masks and a bell
- instruments of his art - lie on the cloth before him. He strikes the
bell and walks to the center of the space. The tale begins.

Full review at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/18/arts/theater/18PERI.html?ex=1057188046&ei=1&en=264158d7632bb566

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