Telluride Theatre’s “Pericles”: No Holds Bard

Telluride Theatre’s “Pericles”: No Holds Bard

Telluride Theatre‘s “Pericles,” its 2018 Shakespeare in the Park production. Colin Sullivan directs the wonderful, wandering, (it’s a journey play), water-logged production on the Main Stage in Telluride’s Town Park. “Pericles” went up Saturday, July 21, and runs through July 29. (However, there is no show Wednesday, July 25.) Show time is 8 p.m. nightly; Sunday’s matinee, July 22, is at 2 p.m. Snacks, beer and wine are available on site. Rain or shine, but dress warmly. Tickets are $20 for adults; $12 for students GA. Telluride Theatre members and sponsors have reserved seats. Tickets here.

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And they all live happily ever after.

Big applause.

Curtain down.

And please take your empty popcorn boxes with you.


Pericles Set

In the vast canon of Shakespeare, the action-driven tall tale of “Pericles of Tyre,” Telluride Theatre’s latest production, is the equivalent of a bodice-ripping popcorn flick.

And that’s the very good news.

Director Colin Sullivan’s “Pericles” is all the yummier because it is not the kale of the Bard’s tragedies like “Othello,” “MacBeth” or “King Lear” or the late romances like The Winter’s Tale” and “The Tempest,” all of which “Pericles” bridged.

And on opening night everyone, hungry for relief from our collective existential angst, ate it all up, hyperbolic twists and turns and all, like the Bardic equivalent of junk food.

Ate it all up with relish, like recovering vegans on their first (grass fed of course) steak.

Way back when, Shakespeare’s worthy adversary and insistent (very jealous) critic Ben Jonson denounced “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” as “a mouldy tale.” The reputation of this late romance has suffered ever since. (Though it was one of the Bard’s greatest commercial successes, in part because, according to Colin, it is one of the few plays in which Shakespeare deals very sympathetically with the lower class.)

No doubt “Pericles” lacks the verse (with their double and triple entendres) and rich psychology of the Bard’s greatest works, but what this wonder-packed tragicomedy has in spades is action and heart. With its hard-hitting references to abuses of power, the story also has something to say about the world today. And its Hollywood ending, while pure corn, also suggests when all appears lost, it is possible to recover in an ultimately benevolent universe.

Hope springs eternal.

In fact the words on Pericles’ shield say as much: “In hope I love.”

A message with great appeal nowadays – one which underlines the appeal of what might otherwise be considered an eccentric choice for a local production. (Or any production. Nowadays “Pericles” is rarely produced.)

Prospero’s Bar

As a nod to its history, Colin sets his adaptation in a bar he names “Prospero,” (a nod to the magician in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”). The place is vaguely reminiscent of venues like Folk City and The Bitter End in New York’s Greenwich Village, popular in the 1960s when folk and Americana were king. (A great choice that reveals Colin’s relentless scholarship: the original production was a collaboration between the Bard and a pub owner named George Wilkins. They got their story from a poet named John Gower, who rewrote the original Greek tale which was based on the myth of Apollonius.)


And it is Gower, (in this version, a steaming hot Michael Raver), who is reborn as the heavily taxed narrator of the romance. In that role, Raver is tasked with the daunting job of untying the play’s complicated knots and, as the wandering folk troubadour, he executes with ringing authority – even taking over as director at a critical moment near the end, when his character – otherwise a kind of ghost haunting each scene – feels the actors are holding back at a climactic point in the unfolding melodrama.

To handle the meandering trajectory of this tragicomedy, joining a long, illustrious list of directors, Colin slices and dices the text, but manages to keep the essential plot elements intact. He breaks up long speeches to create punchier exchanges between characters. Even turns some of the most important moments into songs. (Thanks to choral director Anna Robinson, these musical interludes are aural elixirs delivered by a game cast.)

The decor is simple, thanks to Colin, aided by lighting director Tommy Wince and returning theatre veteran Melissa Trn, whose spare sets and props – a blackboard, a wheel, rope, a few tables and chairs and a bar – perfectly support and encapsulate the action in each  complex scene, by turns fanciful, absurd, poignant and poetic.

The costumes are simple too. Trn again, continuing to go with less is more For example, a ubiquitous man’s jacket serves as a king’s robe, tying the three faces of Pericles together.

Movement and blocking is used strategically and to great affect to underline the key points of each scene. (All thanks to Telluride Theatre’s managing director, Cat Lee Covert, who is also the production’s choreographer.)

The point of it all is to throw a spotlight on the performances, a bubbly cocktail of talented Telluride Theatre regulars and promising newcomers, including Cari Galbraith, Blaine Musselman, and Sam Young, who all rise with pure delight to the occasion and nail their cameos.

On Saturday night, it was apparent the actors were all having as much fun as the audience – which is saying something since everyone, except the three Pericles, was made to switch without warning from part to part, changing accents as cheerfully and competently as some people change hats (and partners).

When the story begins, a young Phoenician prince named Pericles, (charming and believable as a callow fellow and handsome young prince, Simon Perkovich) leaves Tyre for Antioch, trying to find his footing outside the overarching influence of his dad. There the evil King Antiochus (veteran actor David Macmillan doing a devil of a job in the role) is hosting a little contest. Whoever guesses his riddle, wins his smokin’ offspring as his bride (the winsome, melodic Arabella Galbo). Whoever guesses wrong, loses his head.

Pericles 1 & King Antiochus

Of course a hormonal Pericles goes for it. And of course he triumphs, but his is a Pyrrhic victory. The solution to the riddle reveals a dirty little secret: Antiochus is sleeping with his own daughter. (Yuck.)

His life in peril, our hero heads for the safety of home in Tyre, where he puts his closest friend and right hand man, Helicanus (a dignified, understated Peter Lundeen), in charge and goes on the lam before Antiochus’s hit man (a sassy, swaggering Chrisanne Schworn) shows up to, urr, execute his commission.

Pericles & Helicanus

Pericles sets sail for Tarsus, a city in the throes of the worst famine in its history. In exchange for cover, the prince hooks up the Governor Cleon (David Macmillan again, this time having lost his bite to the bite of his shrew he is married to) and the wife, Dionyza, (Sue Knechtel wholly convincing as the Ladies-Who-Lunch version of Lady MacBeth), with a boatload of food.

(Just let me say the leitmotif of play-as-popcorn become quite literal in the scene.)

Very soon, however, Pericles feels the hot breath of Thailard, the aforementioned hit man. He leaves his grateful new community behind and heads back to sea, where a random storm wrecks his ship just off the shore of Pentapolis.

Exit Simon’s Pericles.

Enter Evan MacMillan.

Exit innocence.

Enter a more mature young man, now stripped of everything he had. Evan’s Pericles is modest and measured in his actions, still seeking to define himself beyond his possessions and royal birth.

A cast of fisherman tell Pericles 2 about King Simonides, a Falstaffian character as full of life and love as Antiochus was full of evil and venom. (Central casting for Suzanne Cheavens, who plays the character as wise and north of impish.)

Pericles 2 Meets King Simoneides

Simonides is hosting a sort of party for his daughter, Princess Thaisa, whom he hopes to marry off. (The role is played by gorgeous, graceful newbie Ramie Holmquist, who fits elegant regal to a “t”). Awesome news, since Pericles failed to score on his first attempt at finding a mate.

Naturally our hero prevails in the contest, one of the show’s best and brightest scenes, showcasing as it does, the depth and breadth of the talent, old and new, on stage. Pericles and Thaisa marry and get pregnant in a New York minute. And then, when news reaches Pericles that Antiochus has croaked, the couple sets sail for Tyre.

Several months later, halfway home, storm #2 hits and it is a doozy. Thaisa goes into labor on the ship and is thought to have died in childbirth. Fearing the fury of the winds and water won’t quit until he does, the superstitious sailors make Pericles toss his wife’s body overboard in a casket. Completely devastated and worried his newborn will not make it back to Tyre without a nurse, the prince makes a pit stop in Tarsus, hoping Cleon and Dionyza will help out their former benefactor.

Meanwhile, Thaisa washes up in Ephesus, where a brilliant, generous doctor/shaman named Cerimon, (a warm and empathic Marty Langion) manages to revive her. (Rebirth #1, foreshadowing the rebirth of Pericles.)

Another year passes before a beaten and bewildered Pericles/Evan forces himself to leave Tarsus and his daughter to Cleon and Dionyza.

Meanwhile, Thaisa, thinking she will never see her family again, decides to live as a nun and moves into Diana’s (Arabella Galbo reincarnated as a deity) temple in Ephesus.

More time goes by – all the twists and turns in “Pericles” happen over 16 years – and Marina, (Jerrica Steger of the bewitching voice and countenance) has grown into a beautiful young lady.

But the beauty and virtue of her charge turns Dionyza 50 shades of green, since her own daughter now lives in the girl’s shadow. When she can’t take it anymore, Dionyyza orders her henchman Leonine, (Jaxon Mosher, convincing as the reluctant executioner, but obedient servant), to off the annoying virgin. However, in the knick of time, a pack of pirates show up out of nowhere and kidnap Marina. (And voila, “Pericles” morphs into  the Perils of Pauline meets Peter Pan.)

More interested in booty (treasure) than the other kind of booty, the pirates sell Marina to a brothel in Mytilene, where Pandar (Lundeen again, no longer the high born gentleman, now equally on target as a snarling low life) and Bawd (Knechtel, still mean and hard as nails, but no longer Upper East Side) do their worst to get the teen to give up her V-card. The couple is aided in their dastardly efforts by their henchman, Boult, a sardonic, snarling, ultimate softie (played to perfection by Lexie Torelli).

However, instead of giving up and giving in to the gentleman of the town, resourceful Marina preaches to the brothel’s best customers (Jaxon again as one of them, this time a man with a spine – and a heart). Even Boult is moved and gets Marina a gig in an “honest” house, where she can make them some money tutoring, singing and sewing.

After 14 years of not seeing his kid, Pericles shows up again in Tarsus, and hears his daughter is dead. Now overcome with grief, it is once again back to the boat and refuge. En route, the downcast royal makes a stop in Mytilene – where he is introduced to Marina.

Pericles 3 Meets His Daughter

Enter Pericles 3, our narrator Michael. And now we witness that second rebirth: After heavy questioning and a musical reminder,  – “You Are My Sunshine,” one of two songs that echoes throughout the production, helping to tie the skeins of coincidence together – dad and daughter recognize each other, dad recovers from his dank depression, leaves his wheelchair and calls for his royal robes.

The family reunion begins.

A revitalized Pericles – Evan returns to the role; Raver returns to his corner – suddenly hears celestial music. It is the goddess Diana, who tells the king to return on his ship and head straight for her temple in Ephesus.

Guess why.

There, King Pericles finds his long-lost Thaisa, who faints when she recognizes her husband.

But the lady quickly recovers and the couple is reunited.

All’s well that ends well.

Thanks to Colin and his cast and crew, Telluride Theatre’s “Pericles” is a definite crowd-pleaser, also an antidote to the news of the day, fake  and not.


Treat yourself and go.


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