Second Time's a Charm 

Woman's Will delivers an exquisitely acted, all-female Pericles.

Unlike Italy and France during the same period, in Elizabethan England women weren't allowed onstage. Which means that, Shakespeare in Love notwithstanding, William Shakespeare likely never saw his Juliet acted by a woman (although during the Restoration, when the rules were relaxed, it became quite fashionable to have female Hamlets). I think old Will would approve of the San Francisco-based troupe Woman's Will, with its mission of making Shakespeare available to everyone while giving skilled female actors interesting work. I think he'd especially appreciate the current production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, now getting a fully ASL-translated airing in local parks.

If the play sounds familiar, it's probably because Subterranean Shakes just did it in May at LaVal's, and not because it's one of Shakespeare's more popular works (it isn't). Having seen the SubShakes production shouldn't put you off seeing this better and more lucid version. In fact, you really should see this one, if only to resolve any murky bits from the LaVal's show. For one thing, this story -- with its shipwrecks and adventures -- is much better suited to an outdoor setting than to LaVal's black box. Also, this cast is much stronger than the SubShakes bunch, who were uneven at best.

Director Erin Merritt and her cast have taken an awkward script (someone other than Shakespeare apparently wrote the first two-fifths, and did it clumsily) and made it absolutely transparent. Everyone's motivations and machinations make sense, the plot moves smoothly, and the story unfolds in an orderly fashion. For example, the reformation of Lysimachus, governor of Myteline, doesn't really make sense as written, but here Rami Margron gives the moment enough time that we believe Lysimachus really has been shamed by Pericles' young daughter Marina into walking away from the brothel where Marina is being held against her will. Margron also plays cruel Dionyza's servant Leonine, and she invests the role with tremendous gravity, vividly showing a loyal man's unease with his boss' orders.

The device of having John Gower (the author of Shakespeare's source material, immortalized as the narrator of this play) delivering his lines in ASL and using the rest of the cast to speak the same lines aloud strengthens the separation between narrator and subject material, giving the story more of a fairy-tale flavor. It also seems more Greek, which is appropriate since the story skitters around the Mediterranean.

Susan-Jane Harrison ties up her hair as Pericles, the noble and generous ruler of Tyre who must flee his home to avoid the wrath (and assassins) of the wicked king of Antioch. Harrison's Pericles is grounded, dashing, and charismatic, whether dueling for the hand of fair Thaisa (sweetly carnal Lizzie Calogero, who makes "I wish he were my meat" sound just as bawdy as Shakespeare must have intended it) or howling over Thaisa's apparently dead body during the storm at sea.

There isn't a false performance in the batch: Christine Odera, who plays Thaisa's father King Simonides, one of the fishermen, and Bolt the brothel stooge, is hilarious at all three. Jaxy Boyd is funny in some of her smaller roles (a fisherman, a pirate) while maintaining complete dignity as Helicanus, Pericles' second-in- command back in Tyre. Juliet Tanner's Marina defends her virtue in the brothel through the surgical application of logic (her besting of Lysimachus and Bolt) and her full commitment to wearing "Diana's silver livery" until she is prepared to shed it, and no sooner. This production brings a seldom-seen treasure squarely into the light.


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