Director Trevor Nunn delivers a captivating ‘Pericles’ at Polonsky Shakespeare Center
Trevor Nunn is a man on a mission — and he’s sharing it with Brooklyn.
The famed Shakespearean wants to direct all 37 of the Bard’s plays before he retires.
“Pericles” is play number 35 for him.
The four-time Tony and Olivier Award-winner helms this rarely performed work at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, the Theatre for a New Audience’s superb new playhouse in the Brooklyn Cultural District. The play opened Thursday night.
We can sum it up in three words: Magic. Magic. Magic.
Nunn is a wizard with this wildly imaginative tale, which is one of Shakespeare’s late plays.
At every turn, the director finds moments that he makes into Big Moments of great theatre. Enchanting original music and songs by Irish composer Shaun Davey are powerful aids in creating these moments. It’s a captivating production, every bit as vivid and entertaining as you’d expect.
After all, this is Trevor Nunn we’re talking about: The director of Broadway blockbusters like “Cats” and “Les Misérables.” The youngest-ever artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and later, the artistic director of the National Theatre in London.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s astonishing eight-and-a-half-hour adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “Nicholas Nickleby,” which Nunn directed, is the stuff of Broadway legend.
By the way, Nunn is dedicating his production of “Pericles” to the memory of Roger Rees, the star of “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,” who died last year at the age of 71.
For the first time in a long and distinguished career, Nunn — who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2002 — is originating a Shakespeare production in the United States.
Lucky us. We get to see home-team Shakespearean acting talent. Stellar talent, led by Obie Award-winner Christian Camargo, who is riveting as Pericles, the prince of Tyre.
Camargo played Hamlet and Coriolanus in Theatre for a New Audience productions before TFANA built its permanent home just up the street from the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The Juilliard School grad has played a host of other stage roles, Shakespearean and otherwise, on Broadway and Off-Broadway and in London.
Movie fans have seen him in “The Hurt Locker” and as a vampire named Eleazar in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 and 2.” On TV, he has been in “House of Cards” and “Dexter.”
But more about “Pericles.”
To frame the action, Shakespeare deploys a story teller named Gower (played with magnetic charm by Raphael Nash Thompson), a real-life 14th-Century poet who was a friend of Chaucer’s.
After some scene-setting music from a wonderful troupe called the PigPen Theatre Co. — who recently appeared in Meryl Streep’s movie “Ricki and the Flash” — Gower appears in a clap of thunder.
He has come back from the dead with a tale to tell, he informs us. Then he gives us an earful, part spoken, part sung, about a king’s incestuous relationship with his daughter and the many princes who have been slain for seeking her hand in marriage.
And Pericles is headed right into this dire and dangerous mess.
In the dark world he inhabits, there are tempests, shipwreck, assassins and foul treachery.
But grace, love and miracles also abound. Sometimes dead people aren’t really dead. Sometimes tears are happy tears. Sometimes gods and goddesses side with the good guys.
High up on the good guys’ roster is Pericles’ daughter Marina (a compelling Lilly Englert), a young woman so wise that she can argue whorehouse patrons right out of their lewd intentions.
Englert’s previous roles at Polonsky Shakespeare Center were Cordelia in “King Lear” and Hermia in director Julie Taymor’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
There are so many fine performances in “Pericles” that there’s not enough room here to enumerate them all. Bravo to this excellent cast.
P.S.: A final word about Trevor Nunn’s mission to direct all of Shakespeare’s plays. Later this year, back home in England, he’s scheduled to do the final two on his list, “King John” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
His “Pericles” is a magnificent move towards achieving his goal.
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“Pericles” is scheduled to run through March 27. Tickets are available at tfana.org or Polonsky Shakespeare Center’s box office at 262 Ashland Place.
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