Though not as often celebrated as some of his other works, William Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” is, by all accounts, one of his most popular plays.
Indeed, there’s not much to dislike. It has adventure, betrayal, love, reunion, redemption, and at the center is a character that takes it all in stride. There’s something truly cathartic about seeing a good hero prevail in a story that seemingly has the perfect set-up for a classic Shakespearean tragedy.
Gamut Theatre Group seeks to tell the story through a combination of elements, including original music and dance, in order to convey the deep emotions of this story by highlighting their universality. In talking with the director, Thomas Weaver, and the choreographer, Rachita Nambiar, it becomes evident that the essence of compassion is at the center of the theater’s production.
Weaver says this is exactly what makes this play so timely.
“’Pericles’ has become a popular title, these days,” he says, “and I can see why.”
The play follows a prince from his homeland of Tyre to various countries and cultures as he explores the lands and flees persecution from a tyrannical king in another region. As a result of his travels, Pericles finds a home in every place he visits, yet he faces incredible hardship. A production like this— where travel and new culture is a central element— can be very dynamic. Both Weaver and Nambiar use this to their advantage in their approach to the play, stylistically and thematically.
The play itself, and its creation, is a combination of various styles that lends itself to a diverse outlook. It is widely accepted that this story was written by multiple authors: William Shakespeare and, as Weaver describes, a “philandering London low-life” named George Wilkins. While, today, the idea of original content and work attribution is very important, it was common in early modern times to collaborate anonymously, especially with playwrights.
The authorship question, as it relates to “Pericles,” helps us to understand how the play can toe the line of so many thematic elements in what is one of the Bard’s shortest plays. It also helps us understand the technical approach Weaver has taken in directing the play and how the inclusion of Nambiar’s traditional dance techniques complements the collaborative attitude that surrounds much of Shakespeare.
With elements of tragedy, history, adventure and romance, it would be easy for the text to be convoluted. Weaver explains that it helps that Pericles is a sympathetic character and one who the audience believes deserves a happy ending.
“It’s rare to have a Shakespearean hero who you can 100 percent root for without reluctance,” he says.
Exuding that compassion is something the Nambiar believes is enhanced by the dance numbers included in the performance. Coming from a background of traditional south Indian ancient dance, Nambiar has used a combination of fusion techniques to blend these elements to enhance the story.
“These dance forms are traditionally very dramatic, so they complement the play nicely,” Nambiar says. “A lot of these dances are used to tell a story. They talk about the feelings in a way that really enhances the aura of the entire play.”
Audiences should be able to recognize and relate to the moments of joy, strength and victory that Pericles expresses in his first dance and the soft, romantic moments of the second. The inclusion of the dance not only makes the emotions of the play more tactile, but it serves as an interlude and celebration of success after a great deal of suffering.
Weaver believes it is precisely this expansive emotional and thematic range that has attracted people to the play for more than 400 years. The universal themes of Shakespeare allow us to examine our humanity, and watching a performance allows us to share those moments with each other.
“The story is adventure, not just for Pericles, but for the audience,” Weaver says. “And I’m very interested in what Shakespeare might be trying to tell us about the nature of adversity and suffering. It is important to see stories that celebrate hope in times of very real adversity.”
“Pericles, Prince of Tyre” runs Nov. 3 to 25 at Gamut Theatre, 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.gamuttheatre.org.
UPCOMING THEATER EVENTS
AT HARRISBURG’S PROFESSIONAL
At Gamut Theatre
“Pericles, Prince of Tyre”
Nov. 3 to 25
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
The Popcorn Hat Players Present
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier”
Nov. 28 to Dec. 15
Saturdays at 1 p.m.
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. available by request for groups of 20 or more.
At Open Stage of Harrisburg
“A Christmas Carol”
Dec. 1 to 23
The Charles Dickens classic about redemption and the Christmas spirit returns for another triumphant year at Open Stage.
“A Very Court Street Cabaret Christmas”
Dec. 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m.
The Court Street singers return performing holiday favorites with a few twists and laughs along the way.