“Pericles,” the tale of a heroic prince who stumbles into just about any adventure imaginable, is viewed “through a millennial lens,” according to director Jennifer King, in her new production that opens at Napa Valley College on April 8 for a two-weekend run.
The work, which is either entirely by William Shakespeare or a collaborative effort (theories differ), has an action-filled plot that begins when Pericles, the prince of Tyre, arrives in the kingdom of Antioch, where the king is requiring that suitors solve a riddle in order to marry his daughter. Pericles triumphs, but somewhat to his disadvantage, as the answer to the riddle reveals that the king is committing incest with the princess whom he is reluctant to release to another.
To avoid the revenge of the king, Pericles sets out on travels during which he saves the country of Tarsus from drought, moves on, gets shipwrecked and washes ashore in Pentapolis, where he wins another princess in a joust. This one, Pericles is able to marry, and when he learns that the treacherous king of Antioch has died and it’s safe for him to return home, he and his bride set out for Tyre. At sea, she gives birth to their daughter, dies, is put in a box and tossed overboard. Only after the box washes up in Ephesus does a local doctor discover that she is not dead after all.
Meanwhile the brokenhearted Pericles leaves his daughter, Marina, with the king and queen of Tarsus; whereas one might expect a shred of gratitude because he had saved their country, the royal pair, instead, sell Marina to a brothel.
“Pericles” does, however, have a happy ending, in which he is reunited with his wife, his daughter and his kingdom.
Staging “Pericles” is generally considered something of a challenge, but King, who has just returned from a six-month sabbatical in Europe, said she is filled with inspiration and intent on adding “21st century influences” as well as Renaissance music to the prince’s fantastic journey.
“This production of ‘Pericles’ is a mash-up of traditional and modern sensibilities,” King said. “It was important to myself, and my students, that the story resounded with a new generation — that it lived in a dialogue with our modern world.”
The production is a collaboration of the director and her students, she explained. “It’s my sabbatical,” said King who spent her time in London and Berlin. “In Europe, groups are collaborating, and I loved bringing this back to my students. I had the cast bring their ideas forward. I loved what they brought to it. It’s very exciting.”
The result features live-stream video footage and other multimedia elements, including newsroom-style segments inspired by current events in the production, a work of the Napa Valley Conservatory Theater and the Shakespeare Napa Valley Lab.
“The setting is timeless,” King said, “but you can draw parallels with the disasters taking place today.”
“This is going to be a ‘Pericles’ that no one has ever seen before,” said Christian Ali Robledo, member of the Shakespeare Napa Valley Lab.
The cast includes Angel Aguilar (Thailard/Boult), Karin Argood (Dionyza), Ginna Beharry (Helicanus/2nd Fish), Brandy Jones (Ant. Daughter/Leonine), Luis Castillo (Various), Rodrigo Contreras (Lysimachus), Fiorella Garcia (Simonedes), Linda Howard (Cerimon/1st Fish), Tim Kitchens (Antiochus/Cleon), Diane Marek (Lychorida/Pandar), Joseph Pharr (Pericles), Aisha Rivera (Thaisa), Mercedes Rivera (Bawd) and Stephanie Terrado (Marina).
“Pericles” will be performed in the Studio Theater of the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center, 2277 Napa-Vallejo Highway, Napa, except for one performance on April 16 at Napa Valley College Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave., St. Helena.
Tickets are $15-$20. Performances are April 8-17, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. A special Thursday “pay what you wish” performance is on April 14 at 8 p.m. For tickets and information call 707-256-7500 or visit NapaValleyTheater.org.