DC Metro Theater Arts

by Jessica Vaughan
4 stars out of 5

Pericles is not performed very often and local company The Rude Mechanicals from Laurel, MD offers a reason why in this shortened, but, they insist, unedited version of this Shakespeare...comedy...drama...farce?

Director Joshua Engel and the large cast plays up that confusion for all its worth. Shakespeare (Alan Duda), co-wrote it with a guy named Wilkins (the excellent Wayne De Cesar). Wilkins, it's obvious, could not write. The play is at its best when those two are onstage, standing in for the narrator and explaining the insane twists in the plot or thrusting hastily written parchment into the actors' hands. But the whole thing is held together by Michael Dombroski (Pericles). Dombroski manages the almost impossible feat of playing the straight man in the insanity.

The company also makes good use of it's minimal staging and props with a clever backdrop and signage to point to the dozen locations in the play. The boat, in particular, probably had the most laughs of the evening. My favorite scene  was towards the end when things keep getting more outlandish and there is a tense moment between Marina (Amy Rauch) and her would-be assassin Thalliard (Erin MacDonald). An irate Shakespeare storms on with another parchment and the entire stage erupts with enthusiastic pirates who carry her away...on that boat which manages not to sink in a storm for once. The other actors also do a fine job of making a real character out of each of their roles. Pericles visited a lot of other kings in his travels and you know immediately which one he's returned to visit (if not always the reason why).

Just to warn you, the play is not for the kiddies! Think of any Greek play you've ever seen (incest, death, rape) mashed with any Shakespeare you've ever seen (mistaken identity and brothels) and the possibilities are kind of awful, though the actors kept it tame and kept the audience laughing out loud. The iambic pentameter did get away from them at some points and there were minor hiccups in the unfamiliar venue, but if you love Shakespeare or you had to sit through a high school production at one time in your life or another, you will laugh...hard.  If you haven't, come anyway, because you won't believe the most famous playwright in the English-speaking world actually wrote this.

DC Theater Scene

by Ben Demers
4 stars out of 5

The disjointed Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a literary maelstrom of political intrigue, murder, incest, shipwrecks, mistaken identities, and pirate attacks spanning six Mediterranean cities.
Director Joshua Engel and The Rude Mechanicals have comically re-envisioned this little-known, convoluted epic as Pericles: Shakespeare vs. Wilkins, a knee-slapping war of words and fists between author William Shakespeare and his purported collaborator, the little known George Wilkins.

Click for tickets to Pericles

While publicly attributed to Shakespeare due to his fame, many of Pericles' scenes are linked to Wilkins, an Elizabethan "pamphleteer", innkeeper, and pimp with a fraction of the Bard's talent. The clash of Wilkins' amateurish writing and Shakespeare's quality prose results in a literary mess that is ripe for parody. In Engel's vision, the two writers' envisioned creative struggle spills onto the stage as they rewrite scenes on the fly, much to the confusion of the actors and delight of the audience.

Wayne de Cesar anchors the game cast with his overzealous portrayal of Wilkins. He struts about the stage with unearned bravado, gesticulating wildly and fuming like a diva whenever Shakespeare interferes. Amy Rauch impresses with her theatrical range, through her startling transformation from the dimwitted servant Igorina to the well spoken, nasally congested princess Marina.

Framed by Liz McDaniel and Alan Duda's clever set and prop designs, the rest of the cast nimbly walks a tightrope between drama and comedy as they desperately try to please both writers, like children caught between warring parents. Occasionally the supporting cast bogs down the dramatic flow with spells of forced acting, eventually compensating for lack of polish with boundless energy. The actors need not try so hard, though: Engel's fine comic script can stand on its own, if they would only let it.

Pericles: Shakespeare vs. Wilkins is a cheeky, inventive production that gleefully blurs the line between creator and creation. It should unite drama buffs and casual theater fans alike in a shared chorus of laughter within the cozy confines of the Warehouse Theater.

Pericles: Shakespeare vs. Wilkins runs through July 28, 2012 at the Warehouse Theater at 645 New York Avenue NW, Washington DC.