It's not like those intrepid theatergoers here in the desert don't have plenty of chances to brush up on their Shakespeare. Season after season, they can choose from a dozen productions of timeless goodies penned by the fellow from that Gwyneth Paltrow flick, but unfortunately, it seems that local copies of the Complete Works have lost a few chapters. The same handful of shows keep getting recycled. How many Midsummer Night's Dreams does it take before it becomes a nightmare? Are there really that many shrews in need of taming? Twelfth Night? More like hundredth night!Wes Martin, founder, producer and chief dishwasher for Glendale's The Shakespeare Theatre, figures that it's time to polish off some of ol' Will's less familiar works. He promises one unusual choice among each season's lineup. Next year will come a mounting of the rarely performed history The Life and Death of King John, a play that's so infrequently done that it might just be a Valley première. And the troupe's current season is ending on a similar note with Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
Director Gerald Thompson, a veteran of some 15 directorial efforts around the Valley (making his debut with the Shakespeare Company), recently recalled a production of Pericles he had a chance to see at a festival about 10 years ago: "I just hated it! I'm not opposed to modern-day settings, but this was all wrong. For some reason, it was set on a tropical island, and they had two different actors playing Pericles at different ages. Just confusing and awful. In fact, when I was approached to direct this one, I first said no."
After a refresher read of the play, based on an old yarn by Chaucer's contemporary John Gower (Gower's ghost serves as the play's chorus), Thompson came around. He has found the show to be one of the most straightforward narratives among Shakespeare's works. The tale of the globetrotting prince who runs afoul of tyrannical kings and sinister riddles, mishaps at sea, hired assassins and years of separation from his beloved daughter is an epic story filled with life-or-death struggles where good reigns at the end -- the daughter, for instance, is so virtuous that when she's forced to live in a brothel, her goodness shames the clientele into reformation. As the director puts it, it's "a classic Shakespearean tragedy, but with a happy ending."
Opening performances of Pericles, Prince of Tyre are at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 8; 8 p.m. Friday, June 9; 8 p.m. Saturday, June 10; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 11, at Cactus High School Auditorium, 6330 West Greenway Road in Glendale. Tickets are $10 and $12. The run continues through Sunday, June 25. For ticket information, call 602-272-0931.