Theater Review: Shakespeare Dallas Makes a Strong Case for Rediscovering the Late-Romance Pericles

Shakespeare wrote a group of plays at the end of his career, critics later called them “romances,” which share elements of both comedy and tragedy, stirring emotions of both and resembling fairytale adventures. Pericles, Prince of Tyre is the earliest of this category that also includes Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and the Two Noble Kinsmen. Many consider Pericles the lesser of the romances (Ben Jonson called it “a moldy tale”), and as a result, it is very rarely performed. It’s a pity, because in the hands of director Raphael Parry and an exemplary cast and crew this show soars as well as some of the heavyweights in the Bard’s canon.

Parry, who is also the Executive and Artistic Director of Shakespeare Dallas, provides a daring vision and flawless execution of this obscure gem that restores one’s faith in Shakespeare Dallas’s ability to pull off this kind of material after the other play in the summer 2013 rotation, the execrable A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Parry and company are able to blend the appropriately colorful aesthetic of the show with the play’s strong elements of magic and allegory. Fantastic late 19th Century Eastern Mediterranean costumes (Lyle Huchton), and Jeffrey Schmidt’s transformation of the whirling silliness of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s set into a nautical and functional field of play complete the picture.

This production dispenses with the usual character of John Gower (a medieval poet and author of one of the play’s sources) and replaces him with the goddess Gaia as a chorus of three women (alternately played by Cindy Beall, Stormi Demerson, Andrea Flowers, Morgan Lauré Garrett, and Janielle Kastner). This emphasizes one of the elements of romance: the appearance of a pre-Christian divinity.

Pericles (Seth Magill) the Prince of Tyre discovers a nasty family secret while pursuing the daughter of Antiochus (Steven Young) and then sets off on a series of exciting wanderings for the next three acts. Spoilers would abound in any further descriptions of the plot, but suffice it to say that the story is chock full of disasters at sea, fighting tournaments, kidnappings, potions, drowning, an assassin, resuscitations, and one incredible coincidence. And all that does not come close to describing how wonderfully bizarre and beautiful this production is.

The entire cast is more than up for the task of taking this neglected play and turning it into an incredibly entertaining night of live theater. Magill as Pericles, is as charismatic and emo (in a good way) as a rock star. Magill fronts local hit band Home by Hovercraft and he uses those musical chops to play this role and sing lovely, original songs (co-written with Shawn Magill). The music alone, which is sinuous, haunting and infectious, is worth the price of admission.

Young, as he proved in last year’s Macbeth at Shakespeare Dallas, is a marvel of energy and passion. He embodies three roles in this play and nails every single one. He is so good that he instantly makes everyone around him that much better. Christopher Curtis as Helicanus (and other utility roles) provides a similar gusto. A gorgeous-voiced Andrea Flowers plays an earnest and fresh Marina. Chris Ramirez as the brothel servant Boult proves to be a gifted physical comedian.

This production possesses an ethereal beauty that transports the audience. It is a discovery of delight and a feast for all the senses.

Photo courtesy of Shakespeare Dallas