Pericles, Prince of Tyre

There's a sincerity and sweetness to Different Stages' production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre' that makes the show tender and touching

Arts Review

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Arts on Real, through Feb. 5

Running time: 2 hrs, 30 min

The Prince of Tyre is lying in bed, bereft. The news that his only daughter has died has shattered him; he does not move, will not speak. When his ship anchors in a distant port, a young woman – herself from a faraway land – is brought to comfort him with song. They aren't told each other's names, but they learn them, discovering to their great joy that they are parent and child, lost to each other but now found again. The scene is repeated later, when both are reunited with the prince's wife, whom they believed had died in childbirth. In fact, the scene is repeated over and over in Shakespeare's final plays: After painful separations and much suffering, parent and child, husband and wife, are reunited. In these works, the playwright appears to have given himself over to themes of atonement and forgiveness, to the absolving powers of the heart.

Which is to say that if one is going to mount Pericles (or any of the Bard's last plays), one had best have the heart for it. Happily, Different Stages does. This production renders the travels and travails of the Tyrean royal with a sincerity and sweetness that makes the play's climactic reunions tender and touching. Artistic Director Norman Blumensaadt takes a simple approach to this complicated tale. He suggests the numerous international settings with cream-colored fabric sheets reminiscent of sails, ropes, and a few pieces of furniture and steers his actors toward straightforward, generally understated portrayals that allow the story to unfold plainly. As the princess who wins Pericles' heart, Beth Burroughs has a smile that might launch a thousand ships; we can see why her husband would grieve a dozen years for her. Their daughter, Marina, is a maid of such virtue that, sold into service in a brothel, she's able to talk men out of ravishing her before they can; she could be literally too good to be true, but Lucy Jennings embodies her with a quiet strength and composure that makes her real. Susan Poe Dickson's turn as the murder-minded Dionyza recalls Hamlet's contention that one may "smile and smile and be a villain"; she beams amiably at Marina, while her eyes sparkle with menace. Frank Benge projects stern integrity as Pericles' most trusted counselor but also delivers deadpan ribaldry as a brothel servant.

Most of the characters appear only briefly, passing figures in the parade of plot devices that complicate our hero's life. So it falls to the actor playing Pericles to provide the dramatic thread that binds the show together. In this, Blumensaadt is blessed to have found Scot Tesh for the role. Tesh, making his first appearance on an Austin stage, radiates the decency and honor that the part requires while still giving the character dimension and complexity. He feels fear and anger and regret, and when he is lying in that bed, his eyes are hollow with loss. The intensity with which he recovers and pursues the identity of this woman – a pursuit nicely matched by Jennings – is genuine and affecting. The production has its weaknesses – some stumbling over lines, awkward transitions, and an overall lack of volume that made much of the play difficult to hear – but the reunion plays so beautifully, one is inclined to forgive them.

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