The Playâ€™s the Thing
A 400-year-old drama mirrors todayâ€™s troubled world
For its first large-scale spring production, the Theater Department made a bold choice: Pericles, Prince of Tyre, a play so different from Shakespeareâ€™s other works that many wonder who really wrote it.
Back in the Bardâ€™s day, audiences hailed Pericles but the critics panned it, and over time the play sank into obscurity. With its implausible twists of plot, dizzying changes of locale, magical interventions, and a cavalcade of royalty, deities, pimps, and pirates, it sounds fusty and deservedly forgotten. So why stage it now?
Third-year MFA students Shawn LaCount (director) and Liana Thompson (dramaturg) found that stripping away some of its static speeches uncovered a fast-paced play that sweeps the hero from place to place before he and the audience can get their bearings. First appearing in print in 1609, the work eerily reflects the turmoil of today.
In search of a royal bride, Pericles discovers a dark secret that puts his life in peril. Then heâ€™s on the run, along the way saving a city from starvation, finding a wife and quickly losing her, placing a daughter with foster parents, and long wandering, bereft. Fortunes rise and fall, the powerful prove deceptive, and the heroâ€™s faith is constantly tested. Putting the work in context, Thompson explains that Pericles is the first of the romances, the major plays of Shakespeareâ€™s last years that include The Winterâ€™s Tale and The Tempestâ€”with their distinctive style, focus on fathers and daughters, and ultimately redemptive view of the world.
Like all Theater Department productions, Pericles exposed undergraduates to every aspect of producing live drama while allowing graduate students to focus on their areas of specialization. The striking set, lighting, and special effects were the work of a technical crewâ€”students who find themselves much in demand on graduation. The cast, picked through open auditions, brought together students, faculty, staff, and community members for a roller coaster ride of an experience.Pericles offered to Thompson lessons â€śuniquely suited to today, as we face the joys and challenges of political change and economic uncertainty,â€ť she says. â€śNo Shakespearean character has as up-and-down a journey as Pericles; from his faith and perseverance, maybe we, too, can gain courage to weather the storm.â€ť
Photos by Jon Crispin
Photos by Jon Crispin