In 2004, a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles directed by Mary Zimmerman (she of Lookingglass Theatre and the Tony Award) opened in Washington D.C. to rave reviews. I’m guessing critics in the nation’s capital had never seen a Zimmerman production. By her standards, this Pericles production, now playing at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, is tame, and dare I even say it, ordinary.
I have vivid memories of the first Lookingglass/Zimmerman production I ever saw, Arabian Nights, back in 1992. I was blown away. Metamorphosis, the production that moved from Chicago to New York and earned Zimmerman the Tony in 2002, was also truly memorable theater. Both productions were packed with creative staging and eye-popping visuals that brought the texts vividly to life and wowed audiences.
Pericles, which I saw this past Saturday night, while never boring, was not the sort of ground-breaking visual feast I’ve come to expect from Mary Zimmerman. The set itself was curious and a tad bit dull. Action takes place in what best resembles a Shaker meeting room. Three walls, a large window and a metal balcony hanging above. It’s a large space that doesn’t get used to much effect.
Other than sumptuous costumes, some strong performances, and a clear presentation of the material (from what I gather is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-produced and lesser-thought of plays) the staging itself I found run-of-the-mill. While the cast did some interesting business with material, in particular blue silk simulating storm-tossed seas, it wasn’t anything original.
The story begins with Pericles vying for the hand of a princess. He must answer the king’s riddle or face death. The riddle is a trick though, and to answer it correctly also means death, so Pericles flees and so begins his journey that is the bulk of the play.
Perhaps it’s the material, but I’m convinced that with the right mix of creativity and innovation, Zimmerman could have made another memorable production. Which, depending on your frame of reference, she has. In my case, Pericles just suffers by comparison.