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PERICLES: an unabridged staged reading at Winspear Hamon Hall

“Few love to hear the sins they love to act.” ― William Shakespeare, Pericles

When was the last time you’ve seen, or heard anyone reading Shakespeare? I honestly can’t remember. The plays are being staged, the movies are being made, but reading Shakespeare is becoming increasingly hard. I am not here to pronounce judgments on the younger generation that doesn’t read anymore. Shakespearean language is, in fact, difficult. However, if anyone tries and succeeds to get beyond archaic lines – they will discover stories that would make any modern fiction (thrillers included) pale in comparison. That’s why the five year program produced by AT&T Performing Arts Center in collaboration with Shakespeare Dallas is so exciting. Not just the most famous plays, but rarely performed compositions came to light under the leadership of Executive and Artistic Director Raphael Parry. Final 2016/2017 season featured the rarely staged play “Pericles” – the story of a thrilling series of adventures, filled with love, sex, natural disasters, unexpected plot twists, and perilous life-threatening undertakings.

Marina singing before Pericles, Thomas Stothard, 1825  |  Creative Commons

The story starts with young man Pericles uncovering an ugly secret of incest between King Antiochus and his daughter. Fearing for his life, he is forced first to flee home to Tyre, and then abandon it all together to escape an assassination. In the subsequent world travels, he saves King Cleon’s and Dionyza’s domain from famine (James Bond style), wins a jousting contest, and falls in love with beautiful Thaisa. Meanwhile, King Antiochus is burnt to death in a massive fire brought by Heaven (I am imagining an explosion scene from Inglourious Basterds here), so the happy couple can finally travel home.

That’s just the beginning, though. Thaisa dies in child-birth during a raging storm at sea. Superstitious crew insists that her body is thrown in the ocean. Distraught and worried that the child won’t survive the sea journey, Pericles is forced to leave the baby Marina with King Cleon and Dionyza before he returns to Tyre.

Flash forward fifteen years – now we have an unexpected plot twist. Thaisa actually didn’t die and was saved when she was washed ashore. She becomes a priestess at the temple of Diana. Marina grows up too pretty. She arouses so much jealousy, that it develops into a plot to kill her, but she is “saved” by pirates, who seize her and sell her into prostitution. (How do you like this turn of events?) Marina is not only beautiful, but is able to spin a story like no other – she convinces everyone that her virtue is priceless and ends up teaching in a reputable house instead of selling herself. Talk about BS skills!

I am sure you see where it is going now, right? Pericles finally decides to reunite with his daughter, only to be told by Cleon and Dionyza that she has died. Thrown into the depth of depression, he is despondent to the world and refuses to speak for months. His crew is told of a young woman who can help him, and Marina is brought to the ship in front of her father. Long story short – they recognize each other, and it is a tearful reunion worthy of the Hollywood tradition. Subsequently, Pericles goes to the temple of Diana to give thanks, and… wait for it… meets his beloved wife, who faints at his sight! How is that for an ending?

Anyway, this story is an epic thriller with elements of drama and suspense. Shakespeare’s genius is all about loves and betrayals, horrors and glories, the heights of morality and the depths of depravity. Generation after generation he continues to stay relevant to us. It is all there for us to enjoy, perhaps with a little effort, but undoubtedly worthy of it. Give it a try, the passions are awaiting.

This series is made possible through the generosity of the Mankoff Family Foundation.

Photography by: luna.folger.edu, www.npg.org.uk