David Barlow (left) is Pericles and Annapurna Sriram is Marina in Mark Wing-Davey’s re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Below: Evan Zes (left), Sriram (center) and Rami Margron tussle over virtue and capitalism in a later chapter of the Pericles saga. Photos courtesy of mellopix.com
There’s a rough beauty to director Mark Wing-Davey’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre now on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage. The industrial look of the bi-level set by Douglas Stein and Peter Ksander indicates that this will be a utilitarian telling of this dubious Shakespeare tale – dubious only because we don’t really know how much (if any) of the play the Bard actually wrote.[>
From the giant crane that hoists everything from crystal chandeliers to pirates’ nets to the goddess Diana, to the sliding metal doors that bang and clang during scene transitions, this is a production that revs and lurches like an engine that could use a little more tuning
But that’s not to say that this re-imagining of Pericles by Wing-Davey and Jim Calder isn’t entertaining or even, at times, quite captivating. The creative team, also including costumer Meg Neville, lighting designer Bradley King, sound designer Jake Rodriguez and composer/music director Marc Gwinn and his three-piece band, have a lot of tricks up their respective sleeves, and they employ a lot of moving parts to dress up a tale that can always use a good dressing up.
Wing-Davey and Calder have also done some heavy editing, which streamlines this choppy tale into just over two hours. The ensemble of eight plays multiple roles save for David Barlow as the titular prince. They bring a zesty humor to the proceedings, which range from the truly lovely (Pericles brings corn to a starving nation and we watch as their coffers fill with the golden food) to the ribald (Pericles’ wedding night with Thaïsa on an ultra-bouncy bed is a hoot) to the just plain goofy (as knights prepare to joust for the hand of a fair maiden, one of the contenders turns out to be Batman complete with sidekick, Robin).
James Carpenter plays several kings (one horrific, one kindly) with commanding authority and looks particularly good in a robe covered with images of his face. Jessica Kitchens is also effective in contrasting a sweet princess with a deceitful queen (whose gowns have shoulders to be envied by the most fashionable quarterbacks).
Because this play is so full of incident, it helps to have an engaging narrator (Anita Carey) to help stitch the adventures together, and it’s even better to have a narrator with a lilting Northern England accent.
The actors hurtle through the various episodes with verve, though they tend to get upstaged by props and scenery from time to time. It’s hard to compete with a full-on drenching from a storm at sea, especially when a realistic looking baby doll shows up. The contrast between hyper-theatrical, stretch-your-imagination tricks and the occasional human moments can be jarring.
Wing-Davey’s Pericles labors to make the most of a fractured script, but in the end, this take on the tale isn’t nearly as beguiling as California Shakespeare Theater’s 2008 production (read the review here). In that version, director Joel Sass used a storytelling approach (also with eight actors) that turned out to be as enchanting as it was moving.
This production has some dazzle and some heft and definitely some humor, but all that wacky set-up, which is really just an excuse for an impossible, tear-jerking happy ending, is practically for naught. The one thing that’s missing, amid all the storms and anachronisms and hard-working theatrics, is heart.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre continues through May 26 on the Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $29-$77 (subject to change). Call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.