Monday, August 6, 2012

Pericles on Planet Mongo

Shakespeare in space: Princess Thaisa and Prince Pericles
This Sunday the celebrated Santa Cruz KSCO radio hosts Doctor and Mrs Future and I attended the wedding of the daughter of our Boulder Creek friend, J. J. Webb--Silicon Valley space engineer, poet, impresario and father of the bride. The wedding was held in Sanborn Park, a few miles west of the city of Saratoga. Sanborn Park, as we subsequently learned, has been for 13 years the location of Shady Shakespeare, a remarkably innovative theater company. As it happened, the wedding was situated next to the Shakespeare site so, after the ceremony, Dr and Mrs Future and I wandered down to check out the Bardic activities.

The site is marvelous--a tiny wooded glen reached by a short wooden bridge lined with banners. Traversing that little bridge was like going thru a time machine, instantly transporting us to another reality. After a short discussion we decided to dwell in that reality and bought tickets to Pericles, Prince of Tyre, a Shakespeare play that none of us had ever heard of.

For good reason.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is an ancient world travelogue, crammed with obscure Gods and Goddess mumbo-jumbo, jumping from Tyre to Tarsus to Pentapolis in eccentric itinerary probably as confusing to Shakespeare's audience as it is today to residents of San Jose. To repurpose this antique walkabout for a modern audience, director Doll Picotto (her real name) decided to mount Pericles as a campy science-fiction drama, employing every science-fiction cliche of the last 50 years to frame the emotional turmoils of Tyre's noble prince. From Flash Gordon to Firefly, from Star Wars, Close Encounters to Doctor Who, Ms Picotto leaves no sci-fi stone unturned.

It works.

Part of the fun of this play is seeing how many sci-fi references you can recognize in Picotto's imaginative futuristic rendition of a creaky Elizabethan pot-boiler. Even informed by the media-savvy resources of Dr and Mrs Future, I'm sure there were more than a few sci-fi cliches that I missed.

Given the wacky premise, this play could have degenerated into mere caricature and slapstick. And while there is plenty of laugh-provoking action, such is the dignity of the language and the skill of the actors that credible renditions of love, loyalty, and grief emerge in the midst of the comedic activities of the supporting cast. Indeed in this production the force is strong. Amongst all the fun, Shakespeare's words still shine bright.

My favorite scene takes place in a sleazy brothel, where Pericles's lost daughter Marina has just been sold into slavery by pirates, who have rescued her from an assassin's blade by kidnapping her instead. Since the plot of Pericles ranks high in preposterousness, Shakepeare's use of this Pirates ex machina device to save Marina's life does not seem so out of place and the company carries out their last-minute rescue/kidnap in classic Monty Python "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" style. But once having purchased their prize from the pirates, the brothel owners discover to their frustration that beautiful Marina possesses considerable ability to defend her virginity, a power the equally exasperated pirates had neglected to mention. To find out how Marina (on a leash in the brothel) successfully preserves her maidenhead from the randy advances of virile Lysimachus (a credible Han Solo from Star Wars) read the play. Or better still, come see this marvelous production for yourselves. It runs from August 3 till September 4.

And for admirers of all things Wookie, Chewbacka appears in a small non-speaking role.

No comments: