Lesser-known Shakespeare play is ‘wacky’
LA GRANDE — The members of the La Grande Shakespeare Company recently discovered the joy in not knowing how a Shakespeare play is going to end.
“It’d be an amazing thing to see someone experience ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for the first time,” LGSC director Grant Turner said. “They get to the end and, ‘What! They both died?’”
“Pericles”, on the other hand, is not as familiar to most audiences — even the actors of the local Shakespeare company.
“None of us really knew this play, so we sat down and started reading it,” Turner said. “It’s arguably the craziest of all Shakespeare’s plots.”
That’s due, in part, to the fact that “Pericles” is believed to be written in part by someone else.
“The theory is that basically the first half was written by another author,” Turner said. “It’s really wacky and unreliable. Then the second half is much more obviously Shakespeare. It is beautiful and amazing and immediately accessible.”
The first portion of the play follows a young prince on his many adventures. Then the production shifts to several years in the future when Pericles has a daughter.
“It’s got pirates, shipwrecks and incest,” Turner said. “Everything the good folks of La Grande want to see.”
Bryn McLaughlin, director of the LGSC production of “Pericles”, has constructed the production as a play within a play.
Moreover, the show is presented with coliseum-style seating, so the actors are performing in the round. As a result, they don’t have a full set that people can look at head-on.
“I am trying to keep the stage as clean as possible to make viewers use their imagination,” McLaughlin said. “I feel like most shows today cheat audiences in that way.”
Turner agreed, noting that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was likely performed similar to LGSC’s upcoming show.
“That’s the way acting is meant to be, I think,” Turner said.
Still, it isn’t always a familiar style for the actors.
“We’ve had to approach this differently than other shows,” McLaughlin said. “It takes a lot of world building. The show takes place in several different countries, so we have to figure out how exactly to show each place as distinct from the others.
Gower, who introduces the scenes and characters to the audience, is one of the most important parts of that world building.
“He doesn’t interact with the others; he’s the storyteller,” actor Kevin Cahill said of his favorite role in the show. “He speaks in a different register, and he’s from an older time. I get to sound quirkier than some parts would be.”
Actors Israel, Ava and Liam Bloodgood, Brenna Miller, Cody Flower, Saajan Chauhan and Kelsy Carson will join McLaughlin, Turner and Cahill on stage.
Brenna Miller, on the other hand, said she has most enjoyed the challenge of portraying the differences of two similar characters.
“In the first act, I play a young princess who falls in love, gets married and becomes pregnant,” Miller said. “Later I play her daughter. They are both young, innocent women, but they are also two very different individuals. It’s been a challenge to portray that.”
Israel Bloodgood’s favorite roles are those most opposite each other.
“At first I am a young prince who has a true personality, then I become what is essentially a pimp who is more like a caricature than a real person,” Bloodgood said.
He said part of the fun in that comes from portraying one character who is very similar to himself, the prince, and one who is very different.
“For starters, I’m not a pimp,” Bloodgood joked. “But Boult is also very fast and attentive. He’s quick, whereas I’m not really that, I don’t think. I’m more easygoing.”
Like Miller and Bloodgood, Turner said he also appreciates the differences between his characters. One role is the “salt of the earth” character, and another is the older Pericles.
“As Pericles, I get to be part of this reunion scene that is, in my opinion, one of the most beautifully written scenes in all of Shakespeare’s canon,” Turner said. “It’s pretty magical.”
Despite the less familiar material and the obstacles of performing in the round, the actors all agreed that working together in the past has made the performance come along smoothly.
“With traditional auditions, you’re cast and then you meet the other actors for the first time,” Turner said. “You have to spend that time getting to know them before you can even start working.”
McLaughlin said the troupe was able to start making decisions on the first day.
“It is also really great because, in a lot of shows, there’s a specific hierarchy in the group,” she said. “Here we all respect each other and we can all work together to make those decisions or pitch ideas.”
Actors Ava and Liam Bloodgood, Cody Flower, Saajan Chauhan and Kelsy Carson will join Cahill, Bloodgood, McLaughlin, Miller and Turner on stage.
The Pericles production will run 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays June 10-25 at the Liberty Theatre. Tickets cost $15 for students and seniors, $18 for general admission. For more information, follow La Grande Shakespeare Co. on Facebook.
The acting troupe will present “The Tempest” for Shakespeare in the Park this summer, and Turner hinted at a future announcement of a full LGSC season.
— Emily Adair