Remember when you went to the circus and that little car drove into the center ring and a whole bunch of clowns tumbled out – 10, or 20 clowns.
Eric Tucker, the ever-inventive Artistic Director at the ever-inventive Bedlam Theater Company in New York, obviously remembers those clowns.
How else to explain the opening of “Pericles – Prince of Tyre,” the Shakespeare romance that opened over the weekend at American Players Theatre in Spring Green.
The production opens with a steamer trunk center stage and James Ridge, dressed in an outfit that includes ankle high off-green socks, Opening the trunk, an actor climbs out, then another and another and another. Ten actors crawl from the trunk.
Then come black-clad lighting technicians and members of the crew. The audience howls in delight with each new entrant.
This is Shakespeare?
The answer is yes, especially if you are Tucker, whom New York Times critic Ben Brantley said was a director of “ecstatic ingenuity.”
“Pericles” is a play that can have somewhere between 22 and 3-something characters. Heroes and heroines and ladies, gentlemen, sailors and all of that “Shakespeare stuff.”
Not for Tucker who has made a name for himself at Bedlam by directing classics with small casts. Think Shaw’s 20-character “St. Joan,” with four actors.
The APT production has 10 actors, all playing multiple roles and some playing multiple-multiple roles. And buried somewhere in all of this is a story of a prince(Juan Rivera Lebron) who travels the world in search of love. Along the way he is buffeted by sturm and drang with a bevy of characters who Shakespeare never dreamed about.
Think a dust bowl shack with David Daniels and Tracy Michelle Arnold complete with southern hick accents. Or Marcus Truschinski dressed in a yellow slicker and a Scottish brogue or the lustrous Andrea San Miguel in a dress best suited for a spring prom than a Shakespeare production. Or Cristina Panfilio creating thunder by slamming a tin strip against a wall of the stage. Truschinski also manages a section where he sounds like the Count from “Sesame Street.”
Think, for a moment, how you hear the sound of a joust – two warriors on horses with lances trying to knock each other dizzy – created from the creative mind of sound designer Josh Schmidt. That’s right THE SOUND of jousting.
Tucker has turned this cast loose to play for laughs, to play it over the top with big characters getting big laughs. Mr. Lebron is the only character who plays it relatively straight. Everybody else is something that nobody would expect in Shakespeare.
In his director’s notes for the production, Tucker explains just what he expected out of this production.
“It’s an epic story that spans a decade and a half and several different kingdoms. It is a tale of adventure with storms at sea, shipwrecks, pirates, brothels, famines, knights, incest, a goddess and much, much more. In short, it’s a story that is aching to be told on stage, with live actors and the imagination of a willing audience.
“This is a story that has the possibility not only to entertain and enlighten, but one that I hope can do what I encounter only so often, and that’s reconfirm the power of theatre.”
Those are his expectations, but one of the things that you will carry away from this production is that it is almost totally unexpected. It’s a surprise, in every single way.
“Pericles, Prince of Tyre” runs through Sept. 29 and information on showtimes and tickets is available at http://www.americanplayers.org.
Production credits”Director, Eric Tucker; Assistant Director, Katherine Burris; Voice & Text Coach, Ana Cristina (Gigi) Buffington; Costume Design, Daniel Tyler Mathews; Scenic Design, Andrew Boyce, Lighting Design, Michael A Peterson; Sound Design and Original Music, Josh Schmidt; Stage Manager, Carrie Taylor; Production Photographer, Liz Lauren.
Cast: Cher Desiree Alvarez, Tracy Michelle Arnold, David Daniel, Gavin Lawrence, Juan Rivera Lebron, Cristina Panfilio, Cage Sebastian Pierre, James Ridge, Andrea San Miguel, Marcus Truschinski.