Pericles Redux -- Theater Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Shakespeare's obscure transitional play of uncertain authorship about the heroic attempts of a virtuous Greek prince to overcome or at least come to terms with reality offers a futuristic theater company a chance to shine. Leading the way as Pericles, dancer-choreographer John Farmanesh-Bocca and Not Man Apart's Physical Theatre Ensemble create a Fellini-esque theatrical work that threshes relentlessly through the carnage of evil.

Blending high art with low comedy, slapstick humor with acrobatic dance and throwing in occasional bouts of moonlit poetry, "Pericles Redux" hurls itself at the audience. Ingeniously and passionately adapted from the original, what starts out as a superb action thriller because of the fights, the sex, the glamour and a riotous assortment of clowns turns out to have a complementary, darkly symbolic side pitting social values against pathological evil. Although the issues are more or less resolved at the end, "Pericles" is no place for love. It is a land of tragedy, the relief of death and the ecstasy of resurrection. It is about the imperfections of life.

Fortunately, plenty of Shakespeare has been extracted from the text and without dumbing down. For the most part, it is beautifully spoken and handsomely acted, and so seamlessly and naturally constructed that after awhile, it feels like a kind of circus fantasy happening in the theater, an effect heightened by a bracing, minimal staging that maintains focus on personal relationships no matter how intense the action.

Each brilliantly costumed member of this troupe of 14, it seems, can do it all: jump, leap, clown, pout, sing, dance and even act. In the background, a haunting soundtrack mix accompanies them, sometimes matching the dramatic mood, sometimes anticipating or triggering it. The music is cool and modern, enhanced at times by strings in thirds floating through throbbing minimalist ether.

The second half scrambles and gasps for breath toward the end; perhaps as a result, the message of hope and salvation gets lost in the fun and high jinks of the melodrama. Although there are disturbing elements of violence and abuse, these probably will be understood only by adults in the audience; on opening night, audience members of all ages enjoyed the energy and exuberance with which the company carries out its tasks.

Venue: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City (Through July 26)
Cast: Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble
Playwright: Lillian Hellman
Director-choreographer: John Farmanesh-Bocca
Lighting designer: Randy Brumbaugh
Vocal arranger: Nancy Magarill
Sound engineer: Adam Phalen
Costume designer: Alix Angelis