The Orlando Shakespeare Theater has masterfully brought to life The Adventures of Pericles, an exciting tale of adventure, family and betrayal. The play, Ellen McLaughlin’s modern English translation of William Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is epic in its themes, locations and characters, and wallops the senses with incredible visuals, impactful sounds and even smells.
Upon entering the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s Margeson Theater, a mid-sized thrust, I smelled incense burning from the center of the stage. This helped set the mood for Pericles’ first scene, which is set in a temple of the Greek goddess Diana. The poet Gower (Joe Vincent) guides the audience through the story with his robust narration.
The story follows Pericles, the benevolent ruler of Tyre, a small Mediterranean island kingdom. The first act sees Pericles (John P. Keller) travel across the land courting princesses, outsmarting kings and sailing through deadly storms. He thwarts an assassin, wins a jousting contest and marries the princess Thaisa, played tenderly by Dameka Hayes. Thaisa’s father, king Simonides (Greg Thornton), doesn’t give her up without a hilarious fight. He toys with Pericles and Thaisa in uproarious fashion and even has frank conversations about Pericles’ merits (and flaws) with front-row audience members.
The otherwise serious epic is broken up by humor at other times as well, namely in a funny scene where, after wrecking his ship, Pericles washes up on a beach where a group of rustic fishermen go about their daily work. The fishermen, played by Richard B. Watson, Brad DePlanche and Brad Frost, were hilarious in their demeanor and delivery. Throughout the show, Keller’s Pericles channels the boyish charm, kingly kindness and stalwart courage of a classic Disney hero. His reactions to what the Greek gods give him — and take away from him — are enthralling to watch.
The second act, set 14 years later, mostly follows Pericles’ daughter Marina (Gracie Winchester) through the trials of life as an adopted princess. In stark contrast to the fun, rambling adventures of the first act, Marina’s story mostly happens in one place and attempts to thwack the audience over the head with an outdated moral made more ridiculous by the characters’ actions. That being said, Winchester plays Marina with sincerity and does a good job with what the story gives her. Any set of actors would be hard-pressed to convincingly pull off the awkward and difficult-to-believe situations that occur throughout the second act.
Stephen Lima’s Lysimachus, in particular, seemed poorly developed, but it’s difficult to determine if the blame lies on the actor or on the script. Regardless of its flaws, the second act eventually returns to the show’s themes of love and redemption, and its touching ending tugs on the heartstrings.
The Adventures of Pericles was a fantastic sensory experience. Kat Conley’s splendid set conveys the magnificent and mysterious power of the Greek gods and manages to effectively represent a broad array of locations. Especially impressive were the scenes in which Pericles captains his ship through the stormy Mediterranean. The lights flashed like lightning and thunder boomed. Projections spun light patterns throughout the space and sheets waved onstage, giving a good impression of the roiling sea and its power. The lighting, designed by UCF professor Bert Scott, worked in tandem with the set to help convey changes in location. The lighting was especially effective during the characters’ interactions with gods by casting the actors in an ethereal glow.
Overall, The Adventures of Pericles masterfully portrayed an otherworldly and mystical ancient Greece, and Pericles’ adventures through it were fun and enrapturing. Despite a perplexing second act, the show succeeds on the back of a masterful set and great performances by its leading actors. Director Jim Helsinger has managed to blend the old and new in a marvelously refreshing performance of a classic tale. The Adventures of Pericles, which runs through March 26, is a visually stunning and surprisingly charismatic journey through a fascinating world.
Alex Storer is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.