“For death remembered should be like a mirror,
Who tells us life’s but breath, to trust it error.”
Every so often it can surprise you, the quality of theater to be found even in the most humble and modest settings in New York. Such is the case with Pericles: Born In A Tempest, a production of Hunger & Thirst Theatre and The Guerilla Shakespeare Project. In this adaptation, the words are mostly from the original, but the whole has been shortened and restructured to make it a tale not about fantastic coincidences, lightning-fast love and unlikely tragedies. Instead, it is transformed into a powerful piece about family that will leave a lingering impression if not an ache in the heart.
Pericles’ convoluted plot bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain other classic work, The Odyssey, itself a notably meandering and elaborate story. But this production follows the Guerilla Project’s mission, aiming for simplicity and precision. There are storm-tossed seas and superstitious sailors, a tournament for a lady’s hand, and long lost family searching for each other, but they have taken its essential components and turned them into a smaller, more intimate story that cuts to the essence of what makes a play great.
Jacques Roy and Patricia Lynn
There is death, there’s new life, and there’s the problem of how to best use the time between the two. When a storm knocks out the electricity to a family’s house after a father’s funeral, a couple and their friends decide to pass the time and keep the baby settled and soothed by reading out a book left to the deceased’s daughter. The ensuing antics are what make up the main body of the play, though there are undeniable links and parallels drawn between the improvising thespians and the characters on the page.
The cast comprises only five performers: Jordan Kaplan, Patricia Lynn, Kathryn Metzger, Jacques Roy, and Tom Schwans. They are all notably skilled actors, but Lynn and Roy form the axis around which everything else turns, and their performances are raw and commanding. Director Jordan Reeves’s choice to make this a story-in-a-story at first seemed awkward and unnecessary, but by play’s end it’s the relationship established in those first minutes that connects Shakespeare’s story with the audience, making it living and visceral. The climactic scene is all about emotion, and it’s so intimate that it feels almost like an invasion, a voyeuristic glimpse into a family’s darkest times.
Tom Schwans and Kathryn Metzger
Technically, the show is completely on point. Lynne Porter (set), Melissa Mizell (lighting), and Matt Reeves (projection design) have done fantastic work, creating a performance space that can be visually stunning, is imaginatively utilized, and has surprising secrets. Randall Benichak (sound) and Stage Manager Heather Olmstead have also done great work with an incredibly large number of sounds and queues for an Off-Broadway production, much less one in a small theater space under a high church dome.
In addition to being a surpassingly good piece of independent theater, Hunger & Thirst Theatre have also made it their business to do good for others. At each of these performances they are taking donations that will be sent to Save The Children and their Emergency Response Department, which is actively raising funds for people affected by and working to restore services after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Photos by Al Foote III
Top photo: Jacques Roy and Kathryn Metzger
Pericles: Born In A Tempest
The West End Theatre, St. Paul and St. Andrew
263 West 86th Street
Through November 18, 2017