Spotlight: Pericles

At the Guthrie Lab

It almost seems like the product of a drunken bet: Take local indie visionary Joel Sass and give him a Guthrie budget to work with. But here's the catch: He has to take on Pericles, the shaggy dog/black sheep of the Shakespearean canon, a play so frankly weird that Shakespeare homeboy Ben Jonson dismissed it as "scraps out of every dish." On one level, this play (not this production, let's be precise) about the travails of an ancient prince is a hokey piece of crap. On another, it's a foray into the mythic and the archetypal subconscious. Sass wisely plays it both ways. In a number of scenes, half the actors seem to be playing out a comedy while the other half plumb the depths of tragedy. The play itself feels like two, maybe two and a half, separate dramas held together with rotted twine, which is part of what makes it so entertaining. John Clark Donahue's set design and Amelia Busse Cheever's costumes are the bedrock of this visually outstanding production, full of rich color and dreamlike surfaces. Another layer of unreality is produced by the show's eight actors taking on forty roles; familiar faces continually appear in new and strange contexts. Lee Mark Nelson emerges as a wild-eyed, sword-waving, incestuous king, then later pops up (somehow seeming to have physically shrunk) as a sad governor undone by his scheming wife (Kate Eifrig, who runs the gamut from imperious glamour to lowdown mugging). Ron Menzel as Pericles does nice work with a character who ages about 20 years and loses everything, only to step into one of the unlikeliest happy endings in dramatic history (Menzel walks the comedy/drama line in that scene with good balance). Essentially, we have here a big, loud, messy production of a big, ungainly, sloppy play. It's still Shakespeare, albeit in a strangely loose and free-associational mood. And it's also almost three hours long, though time flies amid the shipwrecks, Eastern exoticism, island idyll, the comedy dance, and the brothel digression. Sass flirts with disaster and, though disaster flirts back, he ends up with success instead.

 
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