For all its tempting plot goodies — incest, prostitution, shipwrecks, attempted murder — “Pericles” is not one of Shakespeare’s better works. The story of the great Greek warrior reads more like a bad ripoff of Homer’s “The Odyssey” with the insufferable suffering of Job thrown in, further hindered by a ponderous ongoing narration by a storyteller named Gower. As a kickoff to its 11th season, the award-winning Glendale-based classical theater company A Noise Within has risen to the challenge, mounting a superlative production of this flawed work, helmed with remarkable imagination and insight by co-artistic director Art Manke.
Staged on Michael C. Smith’s almost bare platform setting, a nine-member ensemble whirls through the often repetitious plot, highlighting perfectly the salient moments in the angst-filled journeys of Pericles (Robertson Dean), Prince of Tyre. Manke has wisely done away with the character of Gower, utilizing his fast-stepping cast to hurl the needed narrative facts at the audience as they flee on and off the stage.
Dean’s remarkably strong performance anchors the production from the moment youthful Pericles arrives at the court of King Antiochus (Richard Soto) to seek the hand of the ruler’s daughter. Pericles’ Homeric odyssey begins when he has to flee for his life.
Pericles’ nightmarish years of travel are briefly punctuated by his happy marriage to Thaisa (Emily Heebner), the daughter of jovial King Simonides (Mark Bramhill), and the birth of his daughter Marina. The courtship of Thaisa is one of the highlights of the production, enhanced by Manke’s colorful, comical and testosterone-driven courting dance.
Dean is admirably supported by a remarkable cast that moves in and out of disparate personas as easily as they change the simple but effective cloaks provided by costumer Alex Jaeger. Michael Nehring is particularly successful as weak-willed King Cleon, who cannot stand up to his jealous wife Dionyza (played to the cold-blooded hilt by Jenna Cole) when she plots the death of Marina (Julia Coffey).
Coffey offers a glowing portrayal as the magnificently virtuous Marina, who literally talks her way out of every dire situation she faces, including her attempted murder and the loss of her maidenhood when she is sold into prostitution.
The production is enhanced by the new age-sounding pre-recorded score by Norman L. Berman and complemented by the evocative lighting of Don Guy.