Exciting, fast-paced, kinetic — these aren’t words usually associated with “Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” With its convoluted plot, multiple locales and huge cast of characters, Shakespeare’s sprawling late-life romance can add up to a very long night.
That’s what makes the new Berkeley Repertory Theatre production a welcome surprise. Director Mark Wing-Davey delivers a buoyant, ingeniously theatrical staging — one that almost triumphs over the play’s flaws, but not quite.
On the page, “Pericles” (parts of which may not have been written by Shakespeare) presents any director with tremendous challenges.
When fate separates the title character from his wife, Queen Thaisa, and their infant daughter, Marina, the result is an epic quest. Along the way, Pericles encounters shipwrecks, assassination attempts, kidnapping by pirates, incest and enforced prostitution. Characters perish, are miraculously healed and return from the dead.
Wing-Davey, who conceived the production with Jim Calder, meets this extravagantly over-the-top plot with a propulsive, outsized staging. Aided by Peter Ksander and Douglas Stein (sets), Bradley King (lighting) and Jake Rodriguez (sound), the director keeps the gritty, industrial-looking stage in constant motion.
Sliding metal doors reveal inner playing spaces. A winch lowers set pieces onto the stage. A rocking platform becomes a storm-tossed ship, with a firehose soaking everyone on board.
The comic moments feel fresh, with puppets, dumb shows and contemporary touches injecting notes of broad humor.
Three musicians (Mark Gwinn, Jeff Holland and Jessica Ivry) positioned above the main stage supply an enveloping soundtrack.
Eight actors, costumed in an ancient-modern mix by Meg Neville, play all the parts. David Barlow is an energetic, articulate Pericles, and Annapurna Sriram is a beguiling Marina. Anita Carey gives a wry, eloquent performance as the poet Gower. Jessica Kitchens does a smart double turn as the gentle Thaisa and a Lady Macbeth-like Dionyza.
James Carpenter brings his customary flair to multiple roles — a creepy Antiochus, a self-aggrandizing Simonides, a rustic fisherman. Evan Zes and Rami Margron play a pair of low-rent brothel owners, and James Patrick Nelson is a chillingly poised assassin.
Amid all the relentless energy, the final scenes come as a bit of a letdown; the magic in Shakespeare’s themes of reconciliation and rebirth doesn’t resonate as it should. This may not be the most touching “Pericles” you’ll ever see. But it’s never dull.