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Theater review: 'Pericles Redux' at Kirk Douglas Theatre

July 19, 2009 |  3:29 pm


Exhilarating and propulsive, “Pericles Redux” is Shakespeare with the excitement of a Lakers game: a blend of precision athleticism, Zen cool and a few frustrating errors. Now at the Kirk Douglas Theatre for a limited run, this guest production by Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble wowed the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival for good reason. Shakespeare junkies, theater artists, and fans of both Joseph Campbell and Keanu Reeves will find plenty to marvel at, argue over and possibly steal.

Director John Farmanesh-Bocca, who also plays the title role, distills this sprawling romance into a series of vivid gestures played out on a bare stage. The goddess Diana drawing her bow, a king tossed on the high seas: These images reach straight into the limbic system -- and Pericles is a fight and flight hero if there ever was one. 

In the powerful opening sequence, Prince Pericles is pulled from the play’s crowd of characters by three bald, shirtless fates (the superb Vincent Cardinale, Dash Pepin and Jones Welsh) and literally flung into the story. Wooing a siren princess (Alix Angelis), Pericles discovers his would-be bride already has a lover: her father, King Antiochus (a charismatic Randolph Rand).

Condemned for outing the royal family’s dirty secret, Pericles gets out of Dodge only to be flung through a series of shipwrecks and misadventures that endow him with a family and then snatch it away. A broken Pericles wanders the world, while his lost daughter, Marina (Jennifer Landon), has her own run of bad luck as a victim of human trafficking.

Cued by Randy Brumbaugh’s crisp lighting and an insistent, Phillip Glass-style score, the supple cast, most playing multiple roles, spins this tale with equal parts grace and slapstick. There are echoes of Pilobolus Dance, Fellini and Mary Zimmerman but also “The Matrix,” Monty Python and reality TV.

With work this bold, the missteps stand out more. A competition among knights for Princess Thaisa (also Landon) is played as a steroidal episode of “The Bachelorette.” It’s a fun idea that the production overdoes, and even the engaging Alexander Rogers as Thaisa’s loopy father tries too hard for laughs.

Occasionally you feel Farmanesh-Bocca isn’t very interested in the text. (Partly for good reason: Scholars believe Shakespeare didn’t write the first two acts, and “Pericles” wasn’t included in the First Folio.) By the time we reach the meet-cute between Marina and local politico Lysimachus late in the play, it’s a relief to be absorbed by old-fashioned psychological realism.

And if the recognition scenes between Pericles and his lost family don’t land with the power of other sequences, that’s because the true romance here is between the prince and the fates. This is a show that vaults into the imagination with the force of a dream. The image of Pericles twisting in the hands of the silent, smiling fates will haunt you. He is any and all of us.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

Pericles Redux,” Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends July 26. $25-$40. (213) 628-2772. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: John Farmanesh-Bocca and Jennifer Landon. Credit: Ed Krieger