Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is setting sail on The Bard’s Mediterranean magical mystery tour, and it’s guaranteed to be a bumpy ride.
A jousting tournament, a kidnapping at the hands of pirates and not one but two shipwrecks are all part of the twisty tale of “Pericles,” one of William Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays.
“It starts with incest, and it only gets more complicated from there,” said Kathryn McGill, executive and artistic director and co-founder of Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park. “It’s a big undertaking because it is a sweeping play. But there are many ways to do Shakespeare. You can do it very simply, and that’s really the way that we’re approaching this.”
For only the second time in its three-decade history, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is staging “Pericles” on Thursday through July 27. In keeping with recent tradition, the company is moving indoors to avoid what is usually the hottest summer weather, performing the epic tale in Civic Center Music Hall’s intimate Freede Little Theatre.
‘Bare Bard’ show
Although the word “epic” has become overused, the term certainly applies to the third production of the company’s 30th anniversary season. “Pericles” opens in the court of Antiochus, king of Antioch, who has offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can figure out a riddle. But those who fail to answer correctly are put to death.
When Pericles, Prince of Tyre, realizes the answer to the riddle is incest, he fearfully flees for his life, setting off on a perilous journey that culminates in what director Caprice Woosley calls “one of the most touchingly beautiful scenes in Shakespeare.”
“This is the first full production that I’ve done (as a director) for Oklahoma Shakespeare, and here’s the thing: I had my choice,” Woosley, who as the company’s dramaturge does all the research into its productions, said with a laugh.
“It’s rarely done because it’s a difficult play to work. Pretty much the scholarship says that Shakespeare didn’t maybe write this play himself, that he had help with it. You can kind of tell it when you look at the text; it’s a more difficult text. However, pretty much everybody agrees that Shakespeare had his hand all over the end of this play.”
For the fourth year, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is moving indoors during what is typically the hottest time of its summer season. Managing director Michael Gibbons said the company uses its black-box breaks from the weather to stage Shakespearean shows that are a bit unusual, including an all-female version of “Henry V,” as well as productions of lesser-known and rarely performed works like “King John,” “Cymbeline” and now “Pericles.”
“We call it our ‘bare Bard’ show, in the sense that the costumes are very minimal, there’s very minimal setting, very minimal lighting. And it’s usually in a space that’s very small, so the audience is right there with the actors. It really just takes it down to the words and the acting, so it’s storytelling,” Gibbons said. “Where ‘Cymbeline’ was more kind of like a fairy tale, this one is more like an adventure story.”
Working closely with her collaborative cast has been vital to recreating Pericles’ sprawling adventures in the stripped-down, “bare Bard” style, Woosley said.
“Without giving a lot away, my actors are actually going to be creating a sailing ship out of their own bodies,” she said. “The skill at which this ensemble works will become very evident.”
Since much of the story takes place at sea, the show will feature several pirate ditties and sailing shanties like “Blood Red Roses.” Actor and musician David Fletcher Hall also has written original maritime music for the production, in addition to playing evil King Antiochus, Pericles’ right-hand man Helicanus and one of the pirates.
Of course, there are pirates in the show, along with a mad band of fishermen. The director said audiences will be surprised at the number of salty characters and far-flung action sequences the play packs into the tiny theater.
‘Midsummer’ family performance planned
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is bringing a little family-friendly magic to midsummer in the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
The company will perform a special hourlong version of The Bard’s famed fairy story “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at 8 p.m. Friday at the Meinders Terrace, in the northeast corner of the gardens.
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park has taken the five-person touring production into schools across the state, but this is the first time the company will perform its child-friendly version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the Myriad Gardens.
“We’ve done it for high schools, we’ve done it for middle schools, and it adapts really well for all ages,” said Kathryn McGill, executive and artistic director and co-founder of Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park. “We’ve cut the content down, but the language is still Shakespeare. If kids have never seen Shakespeare, this is the one to see. It’s real fun and kind of modern and silly. We really gear it as a first introduction.”
Eventgoers are invited to wear their fairy finery and take part in preshow flower and ivy garland making from 7 to 7:45 p.m. Friday.
For Myriad Gardens members, tickets are $5 for children 12 and younger and $8 for adults. For nonmembers, tickets are $8 for children 12 and younger and $12 for adults. Space is limited, so advanced registration is encouraged.
To register or for more information, call 445-7080 or go to oklahomacitybotanicalgardens.com.
— Brandy McDonnell