“A gloriously messy shipwreck of play.” Those are director Matt Chiorini’s words to describe William Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre, an ironic defense for the Boot and Buskin Theatre Club‘s season opener at Le Moyne College, which runs through Saturday, Oct. 31.
If you have never heard of Pericles before, don’t chide yourself for negligence. There remains some question just how much of it Shakespeare actually wrote, and if he did, the poetry ranks toward the bottom of the canon.
Pericles was actually a box-office hit in its day, albeit for all the wrong reasons, grumped Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s contemporary and rival. The historical Pericles was a statesman of Athens, not a prince of Tyre, in what is now Lebanon. So right off Shakespeare doesn’t know the geography or history of the places he’s depicting; he’s more in the realm of romance or folklore.
That’s why a narrator named Gower (Noelle Killius), a contemporary of Chaucer, must guide us through these exotic places and the anfractuous story line. Gower uses a light pen to write the names of the places we’re visiting, like Pentapolis, Tarsus and Myteline. We see strangely familiar artifacts upon our arrival, like the chandeliers and wigs of Versailles or the garish neon of Las Vegas.
Everyman-like Pericles (Drew Gripe) is confronted with a deadly riddle by the autocratic king of Antioch (Orlando Ocampo). If he can’t guess, Pericles dies. But once he realizes the answer reveals a dirty family secret, he can’t answer that, either. Instead, he stalls, promising an answer in 40 days, and flees back to Tyre. Knowing he is not safe, Pericles sets up his pal Helicanus (Fred Pienkoski) as regent, then commences his picaresque voyage around the Mediterranean.
As a reluctant contestant in a tournament in Pentapolis, he wins the hand of the king’s daughter Thaisa (Jade Miori), who conveniently falls in love with him. Aboard the ship sailing back to Tyre, the young couple endures a savage storm, this production’s most dazzling scene. Thaisa gives birth to a daughter, Marina (Carrie Bates); because she is presumed to have died in childbirth, Thaisa is thrown overboard by the sailors. While shipwreck survivors often do well in Shakespeare, even Hollywood’s golden age could not have contrived a more unlikely or happier finale.
Chiorini always had a hankering for Pericles, and his collaboration with ace set designer Karel Blakeley, as well as costumer Lindsey Quay Sikes-Voorhees and a large cast of students in multiple roles, provides the means of solving the impossible. Along with the hugely entertaining spectacle, Chiorini pulls showstopping turns from a dozen players; Brittany Fayle as Dionyza, queen of Tarsus, and Carrie Bates as Marina command the scenes in which they appear.