Inside the actor's take on Shakespeare's surprising play
No matter your favorite Shakespeare play, you'll probably find it reflected in Pericles
, a late-career drama by the Bard that's running through March 27
at Polonsky Shakespeare Center in a production from Theatre for a New Audience.
On one hand, the show has the trappings of a tragedy, following the titular prince as he flees from a murderous king, loses his wife in a terrible storm, and eventually believes his daughter has been murdered by the very friends who swore to protect her. That child – Marina – survives the attempt on her life, only to find herself sold into prostitution. Hamlet's crisis seems lightweight by comparison.
On the other hand, these stories end well, recalling the light that follows darkness in The Winter's Tale
, The Tempest
, and other late Shakespeare dramas. By the time the goddess Diana intervenes to reunite our hero with his family, the joy has almost erased the pain of the previous scenes.
Meanwhile, the script is filled with dancing, singing, poetry, and swordplay, and Trevor Nunn, who directs TFANA's revival, makes room for all this festivity and derring-do.
Granted, some people argue
the play is so varied because Shakespeare didn't write all the scenes, but for Christian Camargo, who plays the title role, the tonal blend is exciting. "It sort of has elements of all the other plays in it," he says, noting that Pericles
was incredibly popular with 17th-century audiences. "People loved to come see all the elements at play. They wanted to laugh; they wanted to dance; they wanted to cry. And that's really fun to experience as long as there's a connection, a message that we can hang our hats on."
Asked about that message, he says, "For me, the primary drive of the piece is this beautiful counterpoint to this Lear-like drop of a man's spirit. Instead of going completely through that dark hole, he rises with this hopeful message. There are messages in this play that I haven't gotten in any other Shakespeare piece that I've worked on. There hasn't been this kind of altruism and benevolence."
Having played many Shakespearean characters – including Hamlet, Mercutio, and Orlando – Camargo finds that audiences have a distinct response to this production. For one, they laugh in places he never anticipated, including a reunion scene where Pericles's gobsmacked astonishment is as endearing as it is moving. "We [in the production] understand that laughter," he says. "There's a release that's needed. It's a real roller coaster – so many ups and downs – that the audience needs these times to reset.
"I tend to enjoy that because you can laugh through tears. The play can make you laugh at the absurdity of life."
At press time, discount tickets were available for Pericles
. Click here to browse our current offers.
Follow Mark Blankenship at @IAmBlankenship. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top photo, featuring Christian Camargo as Pericles, by Henry Grossman. "Reunion" photo by Gerry Goldstein.