Weekending Among Brotherly Love
David Shengold of Gay City News (New York)
April 17, 2008
[...] Another cultural institution that sometimes manages inspiringly transformative work on a limited budget is the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival. In an Off-Broadway-style home off 22nd Street, they often have two things in repertory. Currently, through May 18, they are offering "Romeo and Juliet" and a very satisfying production by artistic director Carmen Khan of "Pericles," one of the late "Romance/Problem Plays" which one rarely gets to see at all.
When I read "Pericles" in my teens, it seemed a pretty unlikely farrago of adventures and stock situations, like the things "Candide" means to parody. After decades of opera-going -- not to mention the ups and downs of life -- I find it deeply moving. The story line bounces across the eastern Mediterranean from crisis to crisis, but the undercurrent is about time, loss, and how family and elective bonds engender both pain and succor.
Certainly Khan's image-rich production and cast had many people in tears, even though fun is poked at the conventions as well. Based on an edition from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it incorporated some rearranging and the use of choral song in place of the Bard's narrator. To some this will send warning flags, but on April 5 it succeeded admirably.
Damon Bonetti's speech patterns got a bit too contemporary here and there, but he made an appealing title hero with the depth of feeling the role demands. Everyone else doubled, trebled, or quadrupled parts to good effect. Some of the city's best actors took part. Buck Schirner excelled as a canine bawd plus paternal figures good and bad -- a colleague rightly saw a touch of Jay Robinson's Caligula in the latter. John Morrison and JJ Van Name exuded trustworthiness and authority in one set of parts and randiness in another. Uniquely in my experience, Melissa Dunphy made Pericles' kidnapped daughter Marina believable as a 14-year-old able to turn wickedness to virtue by example and exhortation - and fortuitously can actually play the violin well.
And no one in the youngish ensemble cast was bad, or acting in some other play of their own devising. How often can one say that of the New York Shakespeare Festival? Philadelphia provided a highly enjoyable evening.