A Glowing Production of Shakespeare's Worst Play
Pericles is so poorly written that, for centuries, Shakespeare scholars tried with all their nerdy might to deny he wrote it. Funny thing is, it was beloved in Shakespearean times because it's the Armageddon of Shakespeare plays, a title usually reserved for the oft-underappreciated Titus Andronicus. The first hour alone is packed with cheap-seat-pleasing thrills: shipwrecks, a jousting match for the hand of a princess, and buckets of scandal—the play opens with an incestuous relationship and, before everything is done, a murder plot is foiled by pirates, and someone gets sold into sex slavery.
Reginald André Jackson plays a terrific Pericles, conveying the king's Job-like torment with a transcendent sorrow. Jackson sets the tone for the rest of the cast: Given Shakespeare's weakest play, they embrace it with a bear hug. Particularly good are Kate Czajkowski, delightfully selling the virtuous Marina, and Todd Jefferson Moore, who nearly steals the show as an evil king, a flouncing gay pimp, and a good king who's a bit of a sissy. Sheila Daniels's direction tackles the lowest common denominator–ness head-on: There's singing and dancing and actors playing instruments as varied as guitars, steel plates, castanets, and bullwhips.
The glaring weakness in Pericles remains its script; it's episodic, disjointed, and as morally simplistic as a Charles Bronson movie. Sexual torment is treated with the same jocularity as a comic dialogue about fishing, and a character is resurrected from the dead through means that would make fans of One Life to Live scoff in disbelief. But this is the ideal way to experience Pericles: with a cast and director who completely understand its anything-goes spirit.