High School Clowns Commit to Comedy Hijinks

    By Quynh Nguyen

    Staff Writer

    There are two schools of thought to producing a
    Shakespearean play: There’s the contemporary adaptation to keep modern
    audiences awake, and then there’s the uncompromising traditionalists who appeal
    to those few faithful aficionados. Director Andrei Belgrader jettisons both.

    William Shakespeare’s dramedy “Pericles, Prince of Tyre”
    revolves around two central plotlines: the adventures of the titular prince
    (Josh Wade) and the misfortunes of his estranged daughter Marina (Liz Elkins).
    The play opens with a prologue delivered by the poet John Gower (disguised,
    oddly enough, behind a costume reminiscent of Mike Myers’ “The Cat in the
    Hat”), in which young Pericles, fearing for his life, flees his homeland after
    deciphering the horrifying answer to a riddle issued by the King of Antioch. He
    journeys to the sea where, of course, mayhem ensues.

    Insanity is an apt description for a production in which the
    director seems to slam various genres, costumes and time periods together in a
    way Dr. Frankenstein would have envied. The play is a kaleidoscope of
    slapstick, tragedy and even dance. Couple that with the extensive doubling-up
    of its actors (where the same person plays multiple roles) — quite common in
    Shakespearean plays — and the result is a slightly schizophrenic experience.
    But here’s the kicker: it works.

    The simplistic, bordering on juvenile props that make the
    entire production seem like an advanced high-school play inject laughs into
    some otherwise dry scenes. Belgrader even goes so far as to bring backstage preparations
    to the forefront.

    One memorable scene portrays a shipwreck and an actor
    stripped to his skivvies in a small bathtub, while being systematically doused
    with buckets of water before sliding into the foreground on his stomach and
    lamenting about being washed “ashore.” Such techniques are subtle reminders of
    the tricky balance between humor and heartbreak. It’s a juggling act, and
    somehow Belgrader keeps everything under control with fluid grace where lesser
    directors would have tripped.

    But perhaps this harmony can be attributed to his strong
    cast members, who carry out their seldomly peculiar performances with
    dedication and commitment. Elkins radiates an ethereal patience and innocence
    as Marina, and we understand why
    she is capable of bringing out virtue from the most corrupted characters.

    Jiehae Park
    and Joel Gelman, in multiple roles, manage to color minor characters with their
    eclectic and flexible personalities, wardrobe, postures and, yes, strange
    accents.

    Commitment appears to be the production’s magic word.
    Belgrader’s creative visions are precarious and the smallest hesitation would
    have been catastrophic at best. But because the actors are so devoted to their
    characters, the audience is also able to commit to the absurdity and go along for
    the bizarre ride.

    “Pericles” is one of Shakespeare’s minor works for good
    reason: the storyline is choppy, the dialogue borders on crude and the play
    hinges on a series of awfully convenient events to reunite father and daughter.
    But despite idiosyncrasies, it has an inherent sweetness, wisely reinforced by
    Belgrader’s artistic guidance, that makes it all go down just a little easier.

    “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” is currently playing at the
    Mandell Weiss Forum Studio through Feb. 2.

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