Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Porters of Hellsgate
Through June 4th
As a theatre critic, I’ve reviewed a lot of Shakespeare’s plays, but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone, in this case George Wilkins, credited as a collaborator in the writing. Apparently, it is now a matter of scholarly record that Wilkins may have written as much as two thirds of this play. Perhaps this accounts for the rarity of its presentation. Thankfully, the current terrific production by the Porters of Hellsgate demonstrates what a rare delight it can be.
The story follows the travails of the peripatetic prince Pericles (Luke McClure) as he staggers around the Mediterranean from shipwreck to shipwreck. He had to leave his own country of Tyre after gaining the enmity of the incestuous king Antiochus (Leon Russom), but ends up saving the starving kingdom of Tarsus and gaining the friendship of its governor Creon (Russom) and his wife, Dionyza (Dana Lyn Baron). Pericles shipwrecks near Pentapolis, but wins the favor of the king’s daughter, Thaisa (Alexandra Wright), and marries her. Thaisa gives birth to daughter Marina (Mara Klein) at sea, but apparently dies giving birth, sending Pericles into a downward spiral of grief that only fate can remedy.
McClure charts Pericles’ course from confident youth to wise and weary elder with admirable poise, allowing the powerful emotions evoked by the story’s ending to seem entirely earned. Russom goes from strength to strength in four roles, essaying kings and porters with equal panache. He’s especially good as the wily king Simonides, bellowing and wheedling to ascertain Pericles’ intentions towards his daughter.
Klein does excellent work as Marina, who uses her virtue as a stratagem for survival; combined with McClure, her work makes for a touching conclusion to the play. Baron is chilling as the murderously jealous Dionyza, and Liza de Weerd Seneca is very amusing as the frustrated Bawd. Jono Eiland and Alexandra Wright are both memorably fine as the noble doctor Cerimon and the loving wife Thaisa, respectively.
Director Charles Pasternak’s use of the entire cast as occasional chorus is quite effective. His staging, which frequently involves using the ensemble to create intriguing visual moments, is even better — for example, he positions the subjects of the starving Tarsus at the feet of their hopeless king in a sort of sculpture of despair. He also creates a subtle effect many times throughout by having a character — who is either dead or not physically supposed to be there — silently watching the proceedings, their symbolic presence made manifest.
There are some things in this 17th century work that are less than classic – an incest riddle game and a hilariously random plot device involving the sudden appearance of pirates come to mind – but overall this is a very enjoyable and ultimately moving show. The Porters of Hellsgate have delivered a strong production of this rare play, and Shakespeare lovers in particular should seek it out.
The Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 4. www.portersofhellsgate.com. Running time: two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission..