Opening Night: Pericles, Trilogy of Terror

Pericles

Seattle Shakespeare Company at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, 733-8222, www.seattleshakespeare.org. $20–$34. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.; also 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3 and 10. Ends Nov. 18.

Pericles might not be Shakespeare's most action-packed play, but it certainly moves at its own fleet clip, piling up incidents and outrages like the Elizabethan crowd-pleaser it must have been. The narrative unspools as a classic hero's journey: a good-hearted prince undergoes the trials of Job, obstacle after obstacle, before arriving at hard-earned happiness; the play features jousting, incest, shipwrecks, kidnapping, court intrigues, romance, murder plots, marriage, and a burial at sea—not necessarily in that order. Everything is set in motion by the prince's courting of King Antiochus' daughter: In order to marry the beautiful maiden, Pericles solves a riddle that reveals a very disturbing family secret—so disturbing, in fact, that the king sends his henchman Thaliard to kill the prince. It is this bounty that drives Pericles to and fro, a victim of human perfidy and cruel fate.

Director Sheila Daniels keeps the action fluid and the pacing snappy, emphasizing the play's ebullient physicality and wry humor. With several dance sequences, the production is filled with music and movement. Daniels, a co-founder of both Baba Yaga Productions and Theater Under Ground, understands that Pericles, like The Tempest, exhibits a high degree of theatricality and artifice, and she gives the play the feeling of being constructed as it goes; in fact, the cast actually does construct the set for the opening scene. Such a sense of inclusiveness, with actors practically winking at the audience, gives the proceedings a playfulness that feels just right.

The excellent cast is full of Seattle Shakespeare Company veterans, many of them pulling double and triple duty. Reginald Andre Jackson, who last appeared at SSC in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac, is a versatile and expansive actor—just what's needed to play Pericles, who several times moves from riches to rags and back again. Todd Jefferson Moore, who gave Richard III such an interesting turn, again takes a royal role as Pericles' three kings.

Granted, this isn't one of Shakespeare's great plays; neither deep nor heavy, it goes down easy as punch. But as a spectacle Pericles is pretty to look at, and in its wide-ranging action and light comic touch, it's a lot of fun. And sometimes that's enough. RICHARD MORIN

Trilogy of Terror

Stone Soup Theatre, 4035 Stone Way N.E., 633-1883, www.stonesouptheatre.com. $11–$22. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Fri., 3:30 and 8 p.m. Sat. Ends Nov. 10.

Stone Soup Theatre's tiny performance space is a bit frightening under any circumstances. Its sunken floor, low ceiling, tight seating, and generally close quarters shove the audience up against the stage and practically into the action; the theater's architecture engenders an uncommon intimacy between watchers and watched that can be an actor's best friend.

Witness Eric Riedmann's performance as the mentally dislodged narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's classic horror story "The Tell-Tale Heart," the second of three one-act shorts in Stone Soup's current production, Trilogy of Terror. Riedmann—shivering, sweating uncontrollably, his wide-open eyes rimmed red—turns the theater's close confines to full advantage, delivering his tale of paranoia and murder as though he were confessing to a solitary and long-standing confidant. He perfectly captures the high-strung, erudite madness of Poe's writing; his words gush out in an avalanche of horrible self-delusion and acute suffering, and his body is coiled tightly, ready to spring forth at the slightest provocation. Director Julie Beckman uses minimalistic lighting and an offstage chorus of terrifying whispers to create a wonderfully tense atmosphere of foreboding that mirrors and exacerbates the narrator's inner turmoil.

Opening the trilogy is Lucille Fletcher's short study in alienation and murder, "Sorry, Wrong Number," originally adapted as a creepy 1948 film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. Stone Soup founder and artistic director Maureen Miko takes the lead role as the invalid Mrs. Stevenson, a nervous, neurotic kvetch whose only connection to the outside world is through her bedside telephone. Here the theater's diminutiveness works almost too well: Mrs. Stevenson, after accidentally overhearing a two-way phone conversation that may or may not reveal her hubby's plot to off her, spends most of the play caterwauling into the phone, and Miko plays her to the hilt, her voice pitched in a loud, high, warbling whine. The play is appropriately suspenseful, though some in the audience may feel a desire to reach out and strangle the woman themselves.

The final play, Susan Glaspell's "Trifles," is something of a head-scratcher. Revolving around the investigation of the killing of a husband by his wife, it's a kind of rural-gothic-feminist murder mystery, in which two women discover a crucial piece of evidence by way of a broken birdcage and strangled bird. The story, hinging on the women's decision whether or not to reveal this damning proof to the men, is good but manifestly unterrifying, and its inclusion among the other two screamers is confusing. RICHARD MORIN

 
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