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Free Shakespeare outdoors in my hometown? Yes, please.
I grew up with the Stratford Festival Theater a short school bus ride away and I miss terribly seeing the star-filled productions that once graced that venerable stage. So when I saw that the Stratford Library was sponsoring a matinee of Pericles in the courtyard amphitheater behind their beautiful old building, I grabbed my lawn chair and headed down Route 8.

The Hudson Shakespeare Company has sent out summer touring shows since the 1990’s to several sites “on the Jersey side of the Hudson River” as well as a trek to Stratford CT. The company’s repertoire is not limited to the “usual Shakespeare suspects” but strives to bring the modern, Greek and lesser done Shakespeare titles to the public’s attention. They also have a philosophy of pushing nontraditional casting in regards to gender and ethnicity. The traveling company ended its three-play summer season in Stratford.

Pericles: Prince of Tyre was a new play for me, and an online synopsis suggested that the action and the numerous locations visited by the lead character would be somewhat challenging to follow. The synopsis printed in the program was very helpful, as well as the notations in the cast of character list (organized by location) of the color scheme that would be worn by the actors.

The cast of Pericles in the opening scene
Photo courtesy of Hudson Shakespeare Company

What may sound like a superficial plot device proved to be both helpful to the audience and effective to the staging. The sinister action that takes place in Antioch featured actors clad in black, with a full-length leather coat for the king, while the scenes in Pentapolis were done in indigos, blue greens and royal blues. Nothing was terribly ornate, for the actors had to change their outer pieces in view of the assembled audience, but the costumes were effective.

Since the scenery was only the surrounding trees and the props consisted mainly of a few sturdy folding chairs and two small iron tables, the actors employed some large pieces of solid fabric at various points. Kudos to director Noelle Fair on calling upon her actor “ability and background in actor’s movement work to create what is called devised theatre.” Ms. Fair, who studied at both the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, writes “the play spans about 15 years and a lot happens within that time. We travel to many locales, people die and come back to life in the blink of an eye....We’re using music and physical storytelling to help the audience along the way.“

Gower the storyteller did not appear, so his lines must have been taken up by other characters. Except for Pericles (played by Laurence James with a wonderful speaking voice,) all the actors played two roles, as well as various townspeople, lords, sailors, dead princes, whores, and pirates. When they weren’t busy changing their costumes, they awaited their entrances behind the crowd or a tree. Library patrons walked past the courtyard and rubbernecked; one man on a bicycle rode by as well. Some members of the mostly senior crowd quietly explained the action to their companions. Nothing fazed this actors.

Lisa LaGrande gave a heartfelt performance as the lovely Thaisa (the princess who marries Pericles) and also played brothel member Pander. Morgan Patton made her Hudson Shakespeare debut in the roles of Pericles’ daughter Marina and Antiochus daughter. J.P. Makowski, a NYC based performance artist, was scary as Antiochus; he also played Boult and served as dance captain. Aaron David Kapner played Simonides, and was a riot as Bawd. Cleon the governor of Tarsus was played by producer Jon Ciccarelli. Jared Kirby served as Fight Choreographer with Tony Mita and Rachel Alt did the choreography that included a ballet during the shipwreck scene.

Rolando Chusan played both the assassin Thalliard and Marina’s suitor Lysimachus, while Daniella Benavides covered both Cleon’s wife Dionyza and Pericles trusted advisor Hellicanus.I was really impressed with the performance of Maggie Lalley as healer and priestess Cerimon and Marina’s nurse Lychorida. A recent graduate of the City College of New York, this young actress is thrilled to be a part of her favorite Shakespeare play ever.

Overall this was a fine production of a difficult piece. The senior citizens from the nearby Baldwin Center appreciated the performance as much as I did. You can read more about the Hudson Shakespeare Company on their website.

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