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The Glory of Magic

Review by Grace Cavalieri

Before I invite you to the feast, let me summarize the plot(s)of PERICLES, at Washington DC’s SHAKESPEARE THEATER.

King Pericles opens a riddle that reveals King Antiochus and his daughter are incestuous lovers. He is therefore to be pursued and killed. Fleeing the country, his first stop is Tarsus where he rescues the country from famine, but he finds trouble is fast upon him, and back to the ship only to shipwreck on Pentapolis, where he vies for and wins the hand of beautiful Thaisa. Setting sail for Pericles’ homeland of Tyre, Thaisa dies in childbirth and her corpse is committed to sea, whereupon, it is washed ashore to a sorceress in Ephesus and brought to life. Fourteen years later the baby Marina, now a young girl being raised in Tarsus, is disfavored by her wicked stepmother and destined for execution WHEN pirates arrive and carry her off to sell her to a brothel. Marina wins her way out through virtue and goodness, and, after a time of mourning where Pericles thinks she is lost, he comes ashore at Mytilene, where his daughter lives. Marina is brought to heal the stricken King and slowly unfolds her tale, (actually ten minutes here could be cut) finding that they are daughter and father, whereupon they sail to Ephesus where Marina’s mother is serving in the temple of Diana. The reunion is total and there is even an Italian nobleman in the group who waits for Marina’s hand.

Pericles is a disjointed tale, one we all forgot right after reading it, and whose authorship is partly in question. Now it becomes the most unforgettable Shakespeare you will see. Mary Zimmerman is the reason. She is the director whose NYC “Metamorphoses” is the production people in the lobby buzz about. She brought her winning set designer, Daniel Ostling, and costume designer Mara Blumenfeld, to “Pericles” from that indelible NYC show, and they have created what we always wished theater could be.

We were sometimes disappointed when we went to theater because it was not the truth, Would we believe it or not? And we wanted to. We really did. Mary Zimmerman says: it is all play, and let’s not pretend this is the truth. It is something far better. It is all make believe and so we will tell the story with magic boxes, billowing blue silk for the sea, tiny handheld ships, a golden ball, drawers that light from within, colored glass, parties where flowers are the food to eat, a toy piano, music of the spheres, even a lap size dog carried about to cheer us on our way.

You want to be nowhere but here. Partly nursery rhyme, part ballet, the cast moves in a choreographed spell. The space of one single room contains the play…a room we knew was a miniature because once we dreamed about it…now blown to giant size with grown up windows from ceiling to floor behind which colors radiate to set the tone, fluttering objects float, or wheat grows. Windows can be anything and in Zimmerman/ Ostling’s hands they become the diction for the words. The style of this production with its visual composition, its wall of drawers from which practical magic comes, is not equalled easily in the memory of theater going. And I cannot imagine a finer cast to carry it all like a  shining ball.

What do you want from theater: raucous antics, bawdy hilarity? It is here. What do you want: romance? Idealism? Truth? Beauty? Satin ball gowns? Sparkling crowns? All here. Pirates? That too. Purity and goodness reign, just as you want it to. Zimmerman says” It is all play” and the characters climb out of the story book narrated, in turn, by one or the other; they live beautifully, they love, they lose, they suffer beautifully, and then they dance away.

Now we know what to get everyone for Christmas. Pericles, through January 2. Call 202-547-1122 and then press 3. That’s the magic button.

Grace Cavalieri is a Playwright, a Poet, and Producer of “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress" on public radio.

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