Theatre Review: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

P1080695Okay, so I mislead myself with thinking that Edward II was written by Shakespeare. If I asked you about Pericles, Prince of Tyre, it would probably not register with you that this was a play by Shakespeare. Come on, have you every seen a production of Pericles. Not me. However, if I asked, “Do you remember which story had that plot about a prince solving a riddle to marry the princess?”, you would say, “Oh, yes… Was that Shrek?”. No, you would not name Pericles as that prince. Of course, the versions of this tale that has filtered into 20th century children’s entertainment, neglected to let you know that the answer was “incest”. Hmmm, no wonder we do not see many productions of Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

Given the sexual themes in Pericles, it is understandable that most theatres which do a few Shakespeare production each year are going to want to fill the audience with well-known titles, rather than fill the audience with the wide range of plays which Shakespeare wrote. You do not make the budget being Shakespeare Trivia. However, the American Shakespeare Center at the Blackfriar Theatre, in Staunton, VA, has a mission to bring the tried-and-true, as well as who-wrote-that? to the stage.

Pericles is the first play that Shakespeare wrote in the “Romance” genre. His audience viewed it as an epic, in the style of Greek epic stories. The term “Romance” was given in the 19th century when the idea of someone toiling for love became vogue. The Tempest is another play of this genre, which you are more likely to find a production of.

Elements of this style of play include exotic locations, adventure episodes, quick pace changes from location to location, and some magic which re-unites the lovers or family. These plays reach back to the Greek epic poems, such as Homer’s The Oddyssey. The Arthurian legends was an example of medieval literature in this genre. Even today, we use this storytelling in movies such as Brother Where Art Thou, the Star Wars and Lord of the Ring  movies.

In contrast to Shakespeare’s tragedies, the Romance play characters do not spend much time brooding introspectively. Hamlet and Macbeth are full of soliloquies in which the characters tell us of their internal struggles. The speeches in Pericles are more narrative which link scenes between Tyre, Antioch, Tarsus, Pentapolis, and Ephesus. Introspections of the characters is more implied than stated. An element that derives back to Greek drama is the use of a chorus, in this case the writer Gower (Rene Thornton, Jr.), who appears between scenes to tell us what is going on & where we are about to depart to.

Pericles (Gregory Jon Phelps) is the prince of Tyre. He travels to Antioch at the enticement of the alluring princess (Sara Hymes) whose hand in marriage can be won by a prince who solves the riddle. Pericles realizes that he knows that the answer is that the king, Antiochus (James Keegan) is sexually involved with his daughter. Pericles’ dilemma is that if he does not solve the riddle he will be killed, but if he tells the answer he will be killed. He flees Antioch, and the adventure begins.

Waylaying storms abound in Pericles blowing the characters between various shores. Tarsus is the first of these. The governor of Tarsus, Cleon (John Harrell), and his wife, Dionyza (Sarah Fallon) lament that their citizens are starving because of a famine. Pericles is blown off course, arriving at Tarsus, with ship-loads of grain, for which Cleon and Dionyza are grateful.

Pericles does not stay long, as he receives a message from the counselor, Helicanus (Patrick Midgley), that Antiochus has sent an assassin to find and kill him. Pericles returns to sea, but is shipwrecked at Pentapolis. A band of fishermen find him and the armor which his father had worn. They announce that a festival is about to occur, sponsored by Simonides (Jonathan Holzman).

Knights have gathered for a jousting tournament, as well as feasting, drinking, and reveling. They hope that one will catch the eye of Simonides’ daughter, Thaisa (Sara Hymes). While the knights each have their armor, with shields decorated with wooing mottos, Pericles arrives carrying a broken branch and his father’s rusty breast-plate. Without trying, Pericles receives Thaisa’ hand, and kiss, and her father’s blessing on their marriage. While Pericles is bashful, his eyes are spinning at Thaisa’s beauty and other virtues.

They are off in a new fleet of ships (don’t worry about details, the knights in Lord of the Rings always had fresh horses, and the rebels in Star Wars had no limit to space ships) takes the newlyweds off to sea. While at sea Thaisa bears a daughter, Marina, but appears to die in childbirth. Of course, there is a great storm rolling across the ocean at the time. The sailors insist that Thaisa must be put into a casket and buried at sea to appease the gods and calm the storm.

Pericles returns to Tarsus. He asks Cleon and Dionyza to rear his daughter until he returns for her. They agree to return the favor for Pericles’ assistance to them earlier. Fourteen years pass, until Marina (Lauren Ballard) reaches an age at which suitors begin to express interest. Dionyza has a daughter of the same age. But, as a protective mother, she realizes that her daughter will be passed over by those seeing Marina instead. That protective quality turns to scheming on how to dispose of Marina.

Before Dionyza’s assassin can kill Marina, pirates abduct her. They are not concerned with having their way with Marina, but making a quick bag of gold. At the market, they sell her to Pander (Patrick Midgley), Bawd (Allison Glezner), and Bolt (James Keegan), who run a brothel and are looking for some new virgins. Marina uses her wits to convince various patrons of the brothel to straighten-up-and-fly-right. She thereby preserves her purity, long enough for Pericles to happen return to Tarsus to be told that Marina was dead, but then to discover that she is alive.

Meanwhile, Thaisa’s coffin had washed up on the shores of Ephesus. Cerimon (Chris Johnston) and his servants find the coffin, opening it and determine that Thaisa is alive. They revive her, and give her to the monastery nuns at the temple of Diana. Diana happens to be the goddess of chastity. She appears to Pericles in a vision, after which he and Marina travel to Ephesus, where they re-unit with Thaisa. You can take a deep breath after all this adventure, and shed a tear or two when the king, queen, and princess finally form their royal family.

Now, let’s have a quick quiz to see how well you were paying attention:

Pericles was a prince in:

A) Shrek
B)Star Wars
C) Lord of the Rings
D) Tyre

The answer to the riddle is:

A)The Color Purple
B) The Graduate
C) Twin beds in the Dick van Dyke show
D) A=B=C, in which A is wife, B is daughter, and C is lover

Plot drivers in this play include:
A) storms
B) sex
C) failed assassinations
D) all of the above

Pericles, Prince of Tyre was written by:

A) Ben Johnson
B) Christopher Marlowe
C) Shakespeare
D) Pixar Studios

Now you are ready to attend a local production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Good luck finding one.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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4 Responses to Theatre Review: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

  1. Barneysday says:

    Good luck, indeed! Great review, and my mind is totally boggled. One would need a scorecard to keep this all straight.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      While I emphasized the complexity of the plot, the play contiained a number of complicated themes in all that action. For instance, the “bad guys” all ended up dieing from various catastrophies, and the “good guys” where eventually united. Now that may seem a bit like most movies these days.

      But, the initiate dilemma of how to distance oneself from the incestuous relationship of Antiochus and his daughter returns at the end of the play. The implied reason that Antiochus is having sex with his daughter is that his wife has died. His daughter, never named in the play, is fulfilling the wife’s role, and of an age that she probably reminds Antiochus of his youthful love.

      At the end of the play, Pericles first recgonizes his daughter because she looks like the wife that he lost 14 years ago. His memories of his wife are only from their brief marriage during their youth. This propels us toward the same dilemma that Antiochus had. However, Diana, the goddess of chastity, rescues us from that risk by summoning Pericles to her temple where he is reunited with his wife. Whew.

      Without these types of themes Pericles could be just another action-packed journey home stories. Being human is much more intense than one long chase scene.

  2. Laurie says:

    Well, I learned something today.

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