This summer’s Kentucky Shakespeare Festival productions have mostly favored the Bard’s better-known works— “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Hamlet,” “Henry V,” “As You Like It” and “King Lear” — but Walden Theatre goes out on a limb to stage the less-frequently produced, far-flung adventure of “Pericles.”
“Pericles,” which opened Wednesday, features the students of Walden Theatre, a youth conservatory training program with a rigorous Shakespeare intensive program. The production is directed by faculty member Julane Havens.
Walden staged “Pericles” earlier this year as part of their Young American Shakespeare Festival, and the production appears at Kentucky Shakespeare Festival as part of the community partner repertory. “Pericles” plays tonight and Sunday at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre in Old Louisville’s Central Park.
The play opens in the court of King Antiochus (Alex Amaya), who has put forth a riddle to all the young men in his kingdom. Whoever answers correctly wins the hand of his daughter, but whoever answers incorrectly will be put to death. Pericles (Kenny Harris), the young prince of Tyre, immediately realizes that the riddle alludes to the king’s incestuous relationship with his daughter. Either way Pericles answers, he will be put to death, so he flees and begins traveling between several different countries.
Adventure ensues; Pericles is shipwrecked, wins and then loses the royal bride Thaisa (Zoe Greenwald), then later becomes detached with grief over the presumed death of his daughter. The play’s vital subplot spins around his daughter Marina (Andrea Lowry), who escapes murderous foster parents when she’s kidnapped by pirates, only to be sold to a brothel. However, her virtue wins her renown, a husband and a safe return to her parents.
Harris and Lowry turn in notable performances in which both demonstrate a wide repertoire of emotions, including a strong, sentimental reunion between father and long-lost daughter.
Usually this episodic history is narrated by a storyteller named Gower, but one of the highlights of Havens’ production is the addition of original music by Emily and Chris Stewart, who set the chorus’ lines to music sung by the members of the ensemble. The music creates smooth, engaging transitions for a script that can come across as disjointed because of its vast timespan.
Walden’s young actors are fully committed to Shakespeare’s script and their contemporary interpretation. But at times, Havens’ aesthetic decisions work against the emotional tone of the play. The dark subject matter—incest, forced prostitution, attempted rape—stood in stark contrast to the more jovial interpretations of the text, such as swapping out a tournament for Thaisa’s hand with a version of the “Hole in The Wall” game show, followed by an energetic, choreographed dance party.
Ultimately, I am excited to see the future Louisville acting talent Walden helps to develop. Conservatory programs like this one serve as the training ground for our community’s next generation of actors. After all, Jon Patrick O’Brien, who played a heart-wrenchingly tragic Hamlet in this summer’s Kentucky Shakespeare production, is a Walden alum. The young cast of “Pericles” adeptly tackled the dramatic yarns woven throughout this narrative, arguably one of the most challenging Shakespearean productions, with stage presence well beyond their years.