The Perils and Possibilities of “Pericles”

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

“Therefore, my lord, go travel for a while,” says Helicanus to Pericles and these words of advice are certainly followed in Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” The play, an adventure that floats the audience across the Mediterranean, is opening tonight in the Frear Ensemble Theater at 8pm.

“Pericles, Prince of Tyre” is the tale of Pericles as presented by the Gowers, storytellers who provide the framework through which the audience joins Pericles’ journey. Over the course of his travels, Pericles grapples with his own sense of nobility and creates a family, journeying through a myriad of distinctly different islands, each with a unique character and appeal that transforms the space in ways that are both fanciful and familiar.

Under the direction of guest artist Eleanor Holdridge, the production has developed each location through the “image that the text inspired,” as Holdridge describes it, so that every aspect of acting, costume (by Laila Swanson, who also designed the set), lighting (by Kim Comer ’09), and sound (by Louis Jargow ’10) pulls together a distinct realm.

Comer explains that representing these travels was always in mind in her lighting design as she used lighting “to denote a new look. We wanted a little bit of a signature for each place.”

At the same time, these movements are carefully balanced so that, as Jargow puts it, “The world doesn’t overwhelm the text.” He explains that keeping the atmosphere of the play “conducive to storytelling,” was paramount as stories are central to “Pericles.”

Holdridge expanded on this in an interview by noting that a play is very much about “time and redemption,” the questions of “how and why stories are told” are also prominent. Holdridge explained her choice in Pericles, a lesser known play written later in Shakespeare’s career, as relating to the current political climate. “America is obviously in a place where change needs to happen. I love the idea of looking at different countries and following [Pericles] looking at all of these different societies.” These societies range from the austerity of Antioch to the ebullience of Pentapolis, with a colorful suggestion of rulers including the decadent and deceitful, fascist and faithful.

Holdridge further explained that the original “Pericles” was Shakespeare’s first to be staged in the Blackfriars Theater that provided him with a range of “new tools, like masques, flying, ships, and dumb shows,” that the Globe Theater’s in-the-round format could not afford. The production in the Frear retains this sense of possibility by its virtuosic dabbling in dance, song, and fight scene.

Assistant Director, Chris Compton ’09, acknowledges that working with a lesser known Shakespearean play is a special opportunity, “With other [Shakespearean plays], people come in already knowing the story.” In this case, the experience is fresher and, as this especially spirited production, “the show carries you along with it.”

“Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” will be performed Friday and Saturday night at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm in the Frear Ensemble Theater. Arriving early to get a seat is recommended.


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