“Pericles” (now at Brooklyn’s Theatre for a New Audience” directed by Trevor Nunn (http://www.tfana.org/season-2016/pericles/overview) and starring Christian Camargo) is full of incident. It is an exotic tale of riddles, incest, atrocity, assassins, shipwrecks, plague, abduction, ritual combat, prostitution, divine intervention, insanity, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Pericles is a long-suffering hero in the mold of Odysseus, Jason, and Sinbad. Anything can happen and does in this play, which perhaps can best be summed up with the incongruous stage-direction: “Enter Pirates.” In the early acts (which might not have been written by Shakespeare), our attention can only be kept by increase of unlikely and unlikelier incidents, making us ask, “What happens next?” Such picaresque story-telling is aided by a brisk pace, live music, sublime spectacle, beautiful costumes and choreography, and attractive and charismatic actors, all of which this Theatre for a New Audience production possess.
What is most memorable in this “Pericles,” however, comes near its end when our now aged hero is re-united with his thought-to-be deceased daughter. This plot-twist is not unexpected. Pericles and Marina’s story-lines have been converging. The scene is the culmination of so many improbable episodes, during which Pericles has suffered and survived but, after having lost (he thinks) his daughter, sunk into devastating depression. As Camargo’s Pericles begins to realize that his Marina may now stand living before him, his maniacal eyes break through the fourth wall as if pleading with us in the audience for some sign of sanity — his expressive gaze shifting from despair to hope transcends the boundaries of theatrical illusion and perhaps even rationality. “O, I am mock’d,/ And thou by some incensed god sent hither/ To make the world laugh at me.” No one is laughing. All hold their breath. As Marina reveals her story, fact after familiar fact, to her father, unreeling what we all already know but that he cannot at first even hope to believe, his happy recognition is achingly lovely. And how strange it is that we too can feel so much when he simply tells his daughter, “I am Pericles of Tyre.”
The goddess Diana appearing in a dream from a colossal full moon makes for a gorgeous spectacle and announces that all else will be resolution. Aristotle argues against the deus ex machina, but in such a story as this, which presents the perrenial truth of history from Herodotus to “Hamilton,” that “shit happens,” life is often a shipwreck, and so it’s those who’re paying attention who ask, “What happens next?” The goddess is not merely an easy way for the playwright to rush to conclusion. Instead divine Diana seems a potent symbol — more credible as a pagan deity because more literary, self-consciously symbolical, rather than really religious — of the lights by which the people we have come to care and admire have guided their lives — charity, piety, chastity, loyalty, prudence, courage, chivalry, wit, and grace. Pericles (like Virgil’s Aeneas) could have so easily been tedious in his goodness, but his story comes to a gratifying close.
“In Pericles, his queen and daughter, seen, /Although assail’d with fortune fierce and keen,/ Virtue preserved from fell destruction’s blast,/ Led on by heaven and crown’d with joy at last.”
And at last, we stop asking, “What next?” and instead wonder, watching this decent man, after a long Job-like life of suffering, reunited with his wife and child, why can’t we now stop smiling?