Performing Shakespeare is notoriously difficult to pull off — even more difficult than listening to it. So when the USC School of Theatre’s Masters of Fine Arts in Acting Program class of 2010 learned that it would be staging Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre as one of a series of three student performances, it must have known the challenges that lay ahead. All things considered, its production Pericles was a valiant effort.
Their performance space posed the first of many challenges. The small, cold Scene Dock Theatre put audience members on edge right from the start. When one of the first actors walked out on stage to a lonely chair in the middle of the floor, the lights remained fully lit and the tension in the room seemed to tighten.
King Antiochus (McKinley Belcher III) stared into the theater, holding eye contact with an audience member. Belcher wore a crown and a furry-looking beard with a black tank top and Reebok shoes. Before a word was spoken, an interesting precedent was established: It could already be inferred that the production was not to be a classic rendition of the epic Shakespeare play.
After Antiochus’ entrance, Pericles (Andrew Dits) walked out and proceeded to recite his lines. And at first, that was all he did. The words felt lost in the translation from page to stage, partly because the performance began so abruptly and partly because the words of Shakespeare are about as foreign to a modern audience as an entirely different language would be.
The audience unconsciously began to lean in, as if getting closer to the action would help it decipher what was going on.
But these performers proved their talent within the following scenes, even though the atmosphere was hard to break. Scene Dock’s inescapable emptiness made viewers reluctant to engage and join the actors on their quest through Pericles’ world. But the 11 performers fought hard, feeding off one another’s energy, and, as the performers gradually fell into a place of intimacy, the audience followed.
The plot’s climax blissfully coincided with the peak of the performers’ talent, when Pericles reunited with his daughter Marina (Nicole Maroon). Maroon had a solid performance throughout, showing a consistency of character.
She brought Dits’ Pericles up to her level as they engaged in an emotional and honest scene of a father weeping for the unexpected return of his thought-to-be-dead daughter. The build-up was drawn out to an appropriate length in order to set the stage for a dramatic climax and shift of story. Every eye was drawn in, unable to look away and fully committed to the story being told.
The same cannot be said, however, for the next reunion scene of Pericles and his beloved wife Thaisa (Hong Hoang). For a scene that should have surpassed in emotional relevance — for Thaisa was his one true love and was raised from the dead — the reunion was anticlimactic, short and thoroughly disappointing. There was a moment of brief joy in both of their faces, then the scene was cut and they walked off together as if it had been a couple months of separation instead of years.
But despite the anticlimactic and almost cheesy ending, the depth and raw emotion that drove most of the play made up for it. The MFA students took a difficult Shakespeare play and shook it up, experimenting with simplicity and modernity to create an atmosphere that drew the audience into the imaginary world.
To view a slideshow of photos from the performance, click here.