A Rousing Tale

January 31, 2008
Life-and-death struggles: senior Ben Zisk as Simonides addresses the knights who have just competed in his jousting tournament, won by Pericles

Life-and-death struggles: senior Ben Zisk as Simonides addresses the knights who have just competed in his jousting tournament, won by Pericles. Megan Morr.

Pericles is not one of William Shakespeare's best-known plays. But it is one of his liveliest. The story of a young prince is full of storms at sea, shipwrecks, pirates, priestesses, and prostitutes.

Life-and-death struggles: Cerimon, played by senior Edward Wardle, revives Pericles' near-drowned wife, Thaisa, played by junior Claire Florian

Life-and-death struggles: Cerimon, played by senior Edward Wardle, revives Pericles' near-drowned wife, Thaisa, played by junior Claire Florian. Megan Morr

Duke's theater studies department staged the play in Sheafer Theater late in the fall semester. The play focuses on Pericles, the prince of Tyre in Phoenicia, and his adventures in several Mediterranean countries over many years. "Pericles is a very rich piece," says John Clum, chair of the theater studies department. "On the surface, it seems like a fairy tale with not much at stake, but really it is a life-and-death struggle. If you dig beneath the surface and mine it for meaning, it is a play about meeting misfortune with grace and nobility and discovering that patience will be rewarded."

Clum co-directed the play with Duke senior Shaun Dozier in a production that drew upon the talents of many Duke faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates.

As part of the production, the student-actors took a course taught by Clum and Sarah Beckwith, Marcello Lotti Professor of English and theater studies. Beckwith also worked on the production as dramaturge. Jeff A.R. Jones, a visiting lecturer, taught student-actors stage combat and helped choreograph scenes that included pirate raids and jousting tournaments. George Lam, a Ph.D. candidate in music composition, wrote a score.

Pericles was performed in the round, partly because that's how it would have been done in Shakespeare's day and partly also because the scenic designer, Amir Ofek, a visiting lecturer, wanted the students to be challenged. In the round, he says, "there is nowhere to hide."