Marin Shakespeare Company opened its third and final play of the season at the Forest Meadows Theater in Marin this past weekend. The seldom-produced Pericles, Prince of Tyre, was one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote and there are questions about whether the play was entirely written by England’s greatest playwright. Scholars more or less agree that the last half of the play was written by Shakespeare, and the first half possibly by a collaborator.
The first verified production was in 1619, three years after Shakespeare’s death, but it is assumed, based on letters from the Venetian ambassador in London, that the play was first produced sometime between 1606 and 1608. The play is recorded as having often run at The Globe.
The play differs from most of Shakespeare’s plays in that it seems neither tragedy nor comedy; neither everyone dies, nor everyone marries. Or is it a history, supporting the legitimacy of the ruling royal house. And although everyone is more or less united and happy, or at least resolved, at play’s end, Pericles might best be described as an adventure story. A lot of miles are covered, a lot of battles fought, and a lot of confusions and misplaced loves eventually requited, in a manner of speaking.
The play opens with an ancient jester-like character Gowan, played by Diane Wasnak, rising from ashes to narrate the dark events that set the background of the play, while casting a wry and sly look toward the other characters. After Gowan’s introductory monologue, the play quickly moves to Antioch, where Prince Pericles (Dameion Brown) has come to woo the daughter of Antiochus, but as Gowan has warned us, the King and his daughter are involved in an incestuous relationship. Pericles, revealing that he understands the riddle of their relationship, also understands that the King will kill him to prevent his incest from becoming publicly known.
And so starts Pericles’ flight from assassins. During his flight he will gain a wife (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) and a daughter (Eliza Boivin), then lose them to vagaries of fate, only to find them again, saved and transformed, after years and miles traveled.
Just as there are many places depicted in the play, there seem also to be hoards of characters. Director Lesley Currier has done an excellent job with the complex choreography of assigning a 10-member cast a multitude of roles so that characters change cleanly and seamlessly through the complex plot.
As Pericles, Dameion Brown leads the cast, and there is no doubt that he has a wonderful and commanding stage presence. Brown met the Curriers during their Shakespeare for Social Justice program at Solano State Prison. Incarcerated at the age of 24, he was imprisoned for 23 years. Since his release he has taken on a number of roles for the company, including Othello, which won him the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle award for Best Actor. This past June, Brown was hired by Marin Shakespeare Company as their first Artist in Residence. He will also continue to work with at-risk youth at two Stockton facilities, where he uses drama therapy inspired curriculum with incarcerated youth.
The company itself is going through major changes. Their Social Justice program has expanded over the past 15 years, and is now providing learning and performance opportunities at 11 California prisons. Closer to home, this coming year the Forest Meadow Amphitheater on the Dominican College campus is being made more accessible and the sound and stage facilities upgraded. Even more, the company has bought a building in San Rafael to house administrative offices and classrooms, enabling this inspiring company to provide excellent innovative theater year round.
– Jaime Robles
Pericles, Prince of Tyre continues at the Forest Meadow Amphitheater through August 5. For information and tickets, visit marinshakespeare.org.