Friday, September 8, 2017

“Pericles” - American Players Theatre

Pericles by William Shakespeare, directed by Eric Tucker.  If you are fond of gentle, reasonable productions, displayed with grace and a great show of camouflaging its theatricality… stay the hell away from Pericles. I’ve never seen any other production so determined to shout in your face, “Hey! This is theatre!!! How about that?!”

And I loved it.

Eric Tucker is obviously a student of Douglas Adams, who wrote about improbability in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “If you have a problem… such as for instance a nineteen stone [cultural slur edited] in pyjamas trying to beat you into a pulp, the trick is to use this problem to solve itself. If you can trip or throw or deflect [cultural slur edited] as he hurtles towards you, then the fact that he weighs nineteen stone quickly becomes his worry instead of yours.”

So how to present Pericles with some sort of decorum while dealing with its constantly changing locales, cast of thousands and joyous implausibilities? You don’t. Embrace the madness, and it will become your friend.  Flaunt it like the boobs of a drunk woman trying to collect Mardi Gras beads.

You have a cast list of dozens. You’ll never be able to pay that many actors. Fuck it – we’ll do it with ten people playing all the roles. Women playing men? Men playing women? Who cares? Just get on the goddamn stage.

Pericles exists in a Neverland where Pericles and his court are costumed and set in your standard Shakespeare production. But to differentiate between all the places Pericles visits, we find American southern sharecroppers, Russian spies, a New York brothel and a British kingdom with fishermen bearing the heaviest Scottish accents this side of Tim the Enchanter. The narrator’s part is split among all ten actors, as if they are doing children’s theater… if part of a children’s show is set in a whorehouse.

Oh god… how do we age Pericles (Juan Rivera Lebron) for the final third of the show? Slap some lines on his face? Large gray wig? Nope. Split the part in two and have James Ridge play the older Pericles – after he’s through playing a woman in a housecoat (the Bawd).

There is so much theatre magic happening here that I don’t want to spoil it for you; so I’ll limit it to two examples.

1. How to show Marina aging from Baby to Fourteen? The narrator cradles a rolled-up comforter (playing the role of Baby Marina), describing Marina’s childhood. As the actress playing Marina steps forward, the narrator flips open the comforter and places it on Marina’s shoulders. Voila. Here’s Marina.

2. The jousting tournament. This was amazing, as the cast played not only the jousters but the audience watching them from the royal box. Kudos to Cristina Panfilia (later to play Marina), whose hypermacho display got applause from the audience.

And with all that goofiness, the final reconciliation was heart-wrenching.

The cast was versatile and amazing. Out of all the plays we saw that weekend, this truly was an ensemble, so I’m not going to single them out. Cher Desiree Alvarez, Tracy Michelle Arnold, David Daniel, Gavin Lawrence, Juan Rivera Lebron, Cristina Panfilio, Cage Sebastian Pierre, James Ridge, Andrea San Miguel and Marcus Truschinski were all brilliant.

Truth in advertising – due entirely to my own stupidity, we missed the first two scenes in the show. The punishment: the Antiochus scene is my favorite scene in the script and I missed it. I really wanted to see what they did with that, since I always envision Antiochus being played with the venomous yet patient exasperation of Reg in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

“But we’re going back again in a couple of weeks!” – Groucho Marx (Animal Crackers)

Margie wants to see The Three Sisters, and we’re seeing Pericles again that night. Because that’s how good it was.

(I'm ending all three current reviews with this, as it is an important point.)

One thing that aids APT in presenting 2½-to-3 hour shows is the effort involved in getting there. From DuPage County, Illinois, it’s a long drive, followed by a half mile uphill walk to get to the theatre. (Shuttles are available.) After all that work, you really don’t want to turn right around and go home after 1½ hours. You go there expecting to be grandly entertained for an entire evening. And your expectations are grandly fulfilled.

If you love classical theater, you need to go to American Players Theatre.

If you want to love full out classical theater, but have only seen abridgements or bad productions, you need to give APT a shot, because you will be converted.

If you hate classical theater… go away.


“Pericles” by William Shakespeare. Directed by Eric Tucker.

When: Through September 29

Where: American Players Theatre, 5950 Golf Course Road, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 53588

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