Cutting through the Confusion

UnknownIt’s unusual that a theatrical production which throws so many jumbled staging ideas at the audience should yield moments of truth and emotional impact.

But Mark Wing-Davey’s production of Pericles at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre does just this, in spite of the fact that I couldn’t make head or tail of half of of the staging ideas and that the play itself (which has been jaggedly edited for Berkeley Rep’s two hour version) is not remotely to be counted among Shakespeare’s finest.

The production is a melee of different cultural idioms. Vaguely middle-eastern ideas (burqas, terrorist attacks,  Islamic devotional singing style…) rub shoulders with absurdist imagery such as rows of green and red cabbages representing human heads. A big crane dumps a bunch of seemingly unrelated visual objects on stage including a boat motor and a massive chandelier. None of this stuff made much sense to me, though several costumes with cabbage head appendages  reminded me of the papier mache head that Wing-Davey sported during his acting days as Zaphod Beeblebrox in the old Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy BBC TV series.

The ensemble cast which includes a lot of local actors (a wonderful and welcome rarity for Berkeley Rep!) does a beautiful job of keeping the action flowing along. The most remarkable moments occur when you see past the confusing miss-en-scene and simply concentrate on what the characters are going through. I found that I was quite moved by the scenes in which Pericles is reunited with his daughter and his wife.

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