Trinity Rep/Brown MFA Presents: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

If your appetite for Shakespeare hasn’t yet been sated by Sock and Buskin’s Twelfth Night, worry not: the Trinity Rep/Brown MFA Class of 2015 production of the Bard’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre continues for one more night.

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One of Shakespeare’s last plays, Pericles tells the tale of the titular prince, who flees from the bloodthirsty Antiochus of Antioch after discovering the King is sleeping with his daughter has a secret. Pericles flees to Tarsus, meeting King Cleon and Queen Dionyza, before being washed ashore at Pantapolis, where he wins the hand of the King’s daughter, Thaisa, in marriage. Their daughter, Marina, is born at sea as another storm kills Thaisa, who is thrown overboard and is carried to Ephesus. Pericles leaves Marina at Tarsus before returning home alone.

The play focuses on the separate lives of the three family members, the roundabout way in which they were split, and how, or whether, the three will be reunited. The entire story, exemplifying Shakespeare’s play-within-a-play strategy, is told by John Gower, an ancient Homer-esque storyteller from Greece two centuries before.

Often categorized as a romance of its time, the play contains both elements of tragedy and comedy, and is clearly a piece of theatre meant to tell a story from beginning to end. This is fully evident in director Dan Rogers’s MFA ’15 rendition, a creative reimagining set in, of all places, a nonspecific attic. In the Pell Chafee Performance Center, the audience sits in front of the set (four walls entirely made of cardboard boxes stacked on top of one another) with country music faintly playing in the background, the lights fully up, when suddenly, Gower (Andrew Polec MFA ’15) appears out of one of the boxes.

From that moment, the lights dim, and Gower brings the audience into the attic, and the story of Pericles. The motif of “makeshift theatre” pervades the narrative, as each prop and multiple sets are pulled directly from the boxes. Audience announcements to turn off cell phones and the location of fire exits are spoken by an old tape recorder. Each prop used in the play was chosen to reinforce the attic setting: Tyre, Pericles’ home, is signified by a stack of car tires. The King’s feast is attended by actors in period-appropriate attire drinking from red solo cups.

In tandem with the complicated plot, the set itself becomes more complicated as the narrative moves along. Walls move, couches crash through supposedly solid stacks of boxes, and lights appear out of nowhere. The entire performance space of the Pell Chafee Center is used, which is an impressive feat in itself (the stage is about as large as the entirety of Sayles Hall).

The ensemble, 14 actors playing over 30 roles, obviously understand and successfully deliver each line, acting clearly through the Bard’s at times antiquated verse. Whether running through the audience, or standing three stories above (yes, that happens), the appreciation of each character and event is evident.

The show is a masterwork of Shakespearean theatre, bringing together a tight ensemble, a fascinating set, remarkable costuming, and overall an imaginative resetting of a wildly frenetic play.

By the way, if that’s not enough, there’s a jousting scene that’s been reimagined as a challenge from Legends of the Hidden Temple. So…

Pericles, Prince of Tyre closes tonight, March 7, at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Pell Chafee Performance Center, 87 Empire Street in downtown Providence (next to AS220). Tickets are available here. Brown students get in with a discount!

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