The New American Shakespeare Tavern has a history of more than twenty years of performances, most of which, as its name suggests, have been renditions of The Bard’s works. Continuing this tradition, the rest of September and the first weekend of October have been dedicated to “Pericles, Prince of Tyre”.
While it is debated as to exactly how much of this play can be accurately attributed to Shakespeare, it is generally agreed upon that he wrote at least half of it and that the play is based upon a then-300 year-old work by the poet John Gower.
Tribute is paid to Gower throughout the play as the poet has been made into Chorus, the narrator.
As the play begins, Gower explains that Pericles has attempted to win a bride by solving her father’s riddle. If Pericles fails to answer, then he dies.
Fortunately, he immediately realizes the riddles solution. Unfortunately, the answer is the father’s confession to incest, so to reveal the answer would also mean death.
As the father is a king, Pericles is hard-pressed to charge him with the riddle’s answer, but cannot keep silent, for giving no answer would accomplish only Pericles’s own demise.
Narration is sure to lead to interesting places with this catch-22 as the start of the intrigue. Pericles flees for his life when the plot unfolds, leaving behind Tyre and the no-longer-desired bride.
Each time Pericles changes locations, Andy Offutt Irwin, as Gower, comes on stage with guitar in hand to explain what is taking place. Without his polite intrusions, the play would make little sense, as the scenes change frequently, time passes sporadically, many of the actors play several parts and two actors play Pericles.
Such a play cannot be compared easily to usual performances. It belongs firmly in the often ignored classification of novelty.
While many plays focus on a certain time or event, this one follows much of the life of the ruler of Tyre: seeing him travel, face significant trials, find a wife and grow old.
The actors, though playing several different roles each, do an impressive job of conveying separate character and personality for each role.
How they manage to switch their mindset between personages is a feat only matched by their ability to change their wardrobe in time for every scene, which is quite impressive.
While the play is enhanced by these technical details, it can still be enjoyed purely by paying attention to the story alone; attentive observers will not miss the single line that explains what happened to an entire family that is no longer part of the story, or the casual allusion to someone’s less than happy fate.
It is not particularly surprising to find that “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” is one of the shorter plays attributed to Shakespeare due to the little time devoted to concluding each of the many characters’ side-stories or demises. However, what it lacks in run time, it more than makes up for in originality and intrigue.
Perhaps what truly makes this play memorable is that the actors do a grand job of conveying the importance of what Irwin narrates.