|Evan Zes, Annapurna Sriram and Rami Margron in Berkeley Rep's Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com|
There are so many things that can go wrong when a company decides to do Shakespeare. Double that risk if it’s not one of the “better” plays, and double down again if the script is cut. So it’s pleasing to report that not only does Mark Wing-Davey’s take on Pericles, Prince of Tyre do justice to a problematic play, but it does so with a kind of gleeful post-punk self-awareness of what can and can’t be done with the thing. It's what Shakespeare might look like if John Waters made a sincere attempt at him.
Seriously cut, it feels more episodic than ever and if your attention wanders for a moment you’ll likely get lost but it’s also easy to find your way back. There’s a lot clamoring for one’s attention on the smartly designed-set, whether it’s the home-made of look of many of the instruments used by the trio of musicians parked above the floor, Ninja stagehands, a brawling Batman and Robin, or a King in Klimt dress (the costumes by Meg Neville are marvelously realized creations). The music, which is present through most if not all of the production, by Marc Gwinn consistently enhances the action and never distracts from it. However, apart from the actors, it’s really the scenic design by Peter Ksander and Douglas Stein which makes the most lasting impression. My favorite sly touch is how the marital bed in which Pericles’ family is conceived then becomes the vessel upon which it is destroyed and returns once again for, well, you’ll see if you pay attention. But there are also tweaks in script that zip by in a flash and don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking wait- that’s not Shakespeare- that's Monty Python.
The cast of eight is solid, led by Anita Carey’s Gower and David Barlow in the title role. Everyone else doubles at least in other roles, with James Carpenter seeming the most at home with the Bard’s language as multiple kings, but all acquit themselves just fine. Jessica Kitchens is a marvelously physical actor. But it’s really Wing-Davey’s vision that keeps this Pericles always interesting and at times makes it soar, escpecially during the first half. Through May 26th at Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage. Recommended.