Seen in Brooklyn:

Pericles

is not one of William Shakespeare’s most often-performed plays, but it was recently seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a rather interesting production. Directed by Bartlett Sher, Pericles marked the BAM debut of Theatre for a New Audience, an itinerant theatre company based in New York City. The production was what I call modern-classicism, that is to say the overall feeling is of a “ period” that is not exactly the present, yet not bogged down in heavy, historical accuracy. All the more interesting, with touches of Peter Brook and Ariane Mnouchkine – but not too derivative. The scenery and lighting by Christopher Akerlind had to work hard to help indicate the numerous Mediterranean and Asian locales, as well as moments on land and at sea, as Pericles is thrown from shore to shore. The pre-set featured an open stage with a blue floor, and a bright blue band of neon running horizontally along the upstage wall (representing the horizon?) with a solo cellist in a pool of light, and low-intensity blue light from the overhead rig. Other musical instruments were set in the side boxes. As the action begins and the young prince Pericles hopes to win the hand of a beautiful young princess, a pipe flies in with death masks of those who had failed to solve the riddle her father demanded be solved to win her in marriage. A pair of long curtains in a pale green move in various configurations throughout as the scenes change and each new location is indicated by furniture and props. Large bamboo poles serve as masts when Pericles and his men take to the high seas. The costumes were designed by Elizabeth Caitlin Ward, with the men in long coats (some reversible as the actors play multiple roles) worn over trousers and shirts. The color palette ranges from princely gold and white to dark blues and black. Thaisa, the beautiful princess that wins Pericles’ heart (played by Linda Powell, Colin Powell’s daughter) appears in a striking red gown. Four knights who joust to win her love are dressed as jesters with brightly colored costumes and funny pointed caps. And actress Brenda Wehle, who very convincingly alternates between the aged male narrator and a nurse to Pericles’ daughter, wears a long blue robe and skullcap. The sound design and musical score, by Peter John Sill added to underscored the narrative. Many of the audience members (myself included) admitted to never having seen Pericles performed before. This production was a perfect “first” with a clarity in the design and direction that helped make a difficult play all the easier to enjoy. —Ellen Lampert-Gréaux


Pericles at BAM. Photo: Richard Termine

Seen in Manhattan: Playwright Charles Mee might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But the recent production of his play, Wintertime was designed and directed in an attempt to create a comedy, well okay, a black comedy. Produced by Manhattan’s Second Stage Theatre in a transfer from The McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ, where it was seen on their main stage last fall, Wintertime lives up to the coldness of its title. Yet the Act One set by Andrew Liberman is truly hilarious. To begin with it is totally white with the outdoor landscape of faux snow covering the indoor landscape of a country house. The entire set is encased in three walls of faux fur — white of course — and the furniture is all white. It’s like being inside a snow globe of a ski house with white birch trees on the lawn. Tiny white footlights illuminate the snowflakes. The actors arrive through the snow, on foot, on snowshoes, through traps in the set, popping up in a rapid succession of “what are you doing here” as a mother, father, and son, with their various lovers, all arrive for New Year’s Eve, assuming the house will be empty. Costume designer David Zinn started with the basics: underwear that is, as everyone eventually strips to a wild assortment of boxer shorts, briefs, bustiers, and brassieres. Kevin Adams designed the lighting, which has some special moments of its own, including shifts in color and intensity when the action shifts from the skewed reality of the play to operatic numbers that underscore the emotions of the actors at that moment. The light also shifts to pink as one actor (Micheal Ceveris, who steals the show as a French lover) performs a rather odd striptease wearing a women’s pink, fur-trimmed peignoir. Don’t ask. Unfortunately, things take a more serious turn in Act Two that is performed in front of black curtains that mask the white winter wonderland, and the actors sit stiffly on a row of silver chairs. Once the punch line of the play is revealed, Mee attempts to return to the gaiety of the first act, but it is too late. The audience has stopped laughing in the realization that underneath this black humor is a rather serious look at friendship, freedom, and fidelity, not to mention love and jealousy. A tall order for a somewhat slight play. —ELG


Charles Mee's Wintertime