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UNFOLDING WITH STANDARD ELEGANCE

 

picture - Folding Chair Theatre

Theater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published April 17, 2009

 

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

now playing Off Broadway at the Access Theater

through April 19

 

You know that old throwaway phrase – “less is more” – that people often use negatively when it's being violated in some way?  Rather than run with the cliché, Folding Chair Classical Theatre uses it triumphantly in the same manner that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect and leader of the Bauhaus movement in Germany, intended when he coined the quote.  Although theater and architecture are two different animals, Mies van der Rohe's minimalist design can easily serve as the forefather to Folding Chair's minimalist theater.  And in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, their latest production, they reduce the Bard's work to its necessary elements without skimping on the quality or the entertainment.

 

Nothing, apart from seeing previous Folding Chair productions, can prepare you for the way they serve up Shakespeare. The problematic play about Pericles, played ardently by James Arden, and his misfortunes with love and family that begins with a riddle, is an entree presented without a set, costumes, or fancy lighting and sound design.  There are no gimmicks to hide behind, no opulent wardrobe to feast your eyes on, and no glitz and glamour to distract you from the text, but there is plenty of meat. They do it all themselves.  The cast creates sound effects with their own voices instead of electronics, and when pirates make an appearance onstage, hands cover single eyes instead of eye patches. Except for a single chair that is used sparingly, all that's left to focus on is the pure unbridled passion and talent of the cast. 

 

To enjoy Pericles and any of  Folding Chair's other productions, one must really be interested in the story and the art of performance.  Luckily, Marcus Geduld, Artistic Director and co-founder of Folding Chair, is crazy about the classics.  From the rise and ebb of the actors' emotions to the manner in which actors are “benched” from a scene by standing in a corner with their back facing the audience, Geduld's ability to make this two and a half hour play lively and seamless is remarkable.  Yet, even with keen instincts as a director, Geduld doesn't pull it off alone.  His cast of 6, playing almost 40 characters here, are solid both individually and as a unit.

 

Fluffing their wings in the Access Theater for the first time (from their previous home at the 78th Street Theatre Lab), Lisa Blankenship, Francine Margolis, Gowan Campbell, Josh Thelin, and Arden all take off marvelously from their new perch even though as the Princess and Marina, Pericles' daughter, Margolis doesn't display the same energy level as the others.  As Antiochus, Pericles' first foe and incestuous father to the Princess, newcomer Larry Giantonio is strong, wrathful, and deserving of his place with the company. And he's multi-talented, too!  Giantonio's acoustic guitar playing during the intro and intermission is beautifully melodic.  Josh Thelin (as Helicanus and Cerimon, lords of Tyre and Ephesus, respectively) continues to be superb, providing comic relief and bravado in his second production with the troupe.  Paul Edward Hope's choreography doesn't make him, but the dance scenes certainly accentuate his zaniness. 

 

The greatest thing (and there are many) about this production and Folding Chair in general is their unwavering trust in each other.  Trust in the give and take of the acting dance, and trust that they won't let each other fall onstage.  Literally.  The scene in which Pericles falls backwards into the arms of his fellow actors while at sea in Act III is a graceful execution that could only have been achieved by a group that is comfortable with each other and their abilities. 

 

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a show that, should it be dwindling, will rejuvenate your faith in theater, and if constant, will zap it with a fresh outpouring of confidence.  It is art, it is life, and it is that fire in your belly made flesh.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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