NEW YORK—There’s triumph and tragedy aplenty in William Shakespeare’s “Pericles.” Spanning two generations and multiple locations, the story features shipwrecks, court intrigue, incest, prostitution, messages from the gods, honest fishermen, and pirates. These myriad and disparate elements are handsomely presented by Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn.
In Antioch, on a quest to woo the king’s daughter (Sam Morales), Pericles (Christian Camargo), Prince of Tyre, is forced to flee for his life after learning a dark secret about the princess and her father (Earl Baker Jr.). The king sends an assassin after Pericles to ensure the secret will never be told.
Wanting to keep his own kingdom safe from Antiochus’s wrath, Pericles goes into hiding. Shipwrecked on the coast of Pentapolis, he makes his way to the court of King Simonides (John Rothman) where, taking part in a jousting tournament, he catches the eye of the king’s daughter, Thaisa (Gia Crovatin).
All this occurs after Pericles and his men helped end a famine in the land of Tarsus. Eventually, Pericles learns it’s safe to return home. But fate has other plans and Pericles, who was previously filled with happiness and joy, falls into the deepest pit of despair.
The adventure is told with a winning cast and more than a bit of mystical hints of divine intervention. These appear via dreams and the abrupt return of a suit of armor from a suddenly forgiving sea.
The entire show zips along with nary a thought of the passage of time. That is, until the storyteller Gower (Raphael Nash Thompson), who serves as narrator of the piece, turns over his hourglass to illustrate a time jump.
It’s a testament to the ultimate power of the story and the very able directorial work by Trevor Nunn that neither the continual scene shifting nor some rather convenient plot twists feel at all out of place. Rather everything flows quite naturally from one point to the other.
What is made abundantly clear is that those honest of heart and pure of spirit will ultimately be rewarded and in ways more dear than financial. This point applies not only to the title character, but also to his daughter, Marina (Lilly Englert)—a character who takes center stage in the latter part of the story.
Marina finds herself betrayed, captured, and forced to work in a brothel. More often than not, she ends up reforming the very souls who seek to corrupt her own. The ever-growing exasperation of her captors (Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Patrice Johnson Chevannes) as their customers turn to the straight and narrow after an encounter with Marina is told with a nice balance of the comedic and the serious. It also provides a good example of poetic justice.
Another point Shakespeare stresses is the importance of loyalty—at least loyalty for the right reasons. Pericles leaves his kingdom in order to ensure his people’s well-being and turns to his trusted friend and adviser Helicanus (Philip Casnoff) to rule in his stead. Helicanus later adamantly refuses to assume the mantle of king despite the pressure from the Tyre court to do so.
Another example includes the Governor of Mytelene (Ian Lassiter), who despite the unsavory circumstances of his initial meeting with Marina, eventually becomes her most staunch ally.
It’s also interesting to note that not everyone who does evil here receives their just desserts. “Pericles” is one of Shakespeare’s later works, written during what is often called his “romance” period. Plays of this ilk often deal with those who were wronged unjustly, or committed wrongs themselves, and are now able to let go of the burdens of the past and move on. They are wiser, older, and more hopeful for the future.
Camargo is perfectly cast as Pericles, a handsome and brooding sort, who more than once feels the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Casnoff presents a quiet strength as the steadfast Helicanus.
Englert is nicely appealing as the steadfastly innocent and quietly earnest Marina. Despite her ever more dangerous circumstances, she still has faith in the concept of honor. Her faith extends both to herself and to others, including people who didn’t know they had it in them.
Offering appropriate commentary throughout the tale—both spoken and musical—is Thompson, who is superbly cast as the storyteller Gower.
Also excellent are the music and songs provided by Shaun Davey. These are wonderfully woven into the story and add an extra layer of enjoyment to the unfolding tale. Choreographic work by Brian Brooks is also very well done.
Almost never letting the audience catch its collective breath as one scene makes way for the next, the show still comes across as remarkably clear with characters that feel completely real and compelling.
Akin to a gigantic roller coaster ride ascending to great highs and falling just as far, Theatre for a New Audience’s production of “Pericles” makes for a wonderful experience.
Also in the cast are John Keating, Zachary Infante, Will Swenson, Nina Hellman, Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Ryan Melia, Matt Nuernberger, Arya Shahi, and Dan Weschler.
Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn
Tickets: 866-811-4111, or TFANA.org
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: April 10
Judd Hollander is a member of the Drama Desk and a reviewer for stagebuzz.com.