Shakespeare at sea opens Riverside in the Park


Riverside Theater’s Festival Stage production of Pericles opens Friday.

By Claire Dietz

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Dennis William Grimes keeps a notebook in his backpack alongside his heavily annotated copy of Shakespeare’s Pericles. In it he details how many times key words are repeated; he says it helps him “answer the questions of his characters.”

“Shakespeare is word-driven,” Grimes said. “ ‘Give’ is said 16 times in the play just by me alone.”

For Grimes, this sort of in-depth research into the play and the playwright comes naturally to him. A self-described bookish person, Grimes tends to throw himself wholeheartedly into investigating his roles.

He will play the title role of Pericles in Riverside Theater’s upcoming production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

There have been some concerns over whether the play may be considered a true Shakespearian play, given that it was not included in the First Folio collection, said University of Iowa English Assistant Professor Adam Hooks. There seem to be reasons it was not included in the folio, but they remain elusive to scholars.

“It might be because Shakespeare only wrote part of the play,” he said. “It’s a collaborative play with a writer named George Wilkins, who — put it this way — was a rather unsavory fellow … He also seems to have been a brothel owner and had some violent tendencies.”

Another reason the play may not have been included is because of the text, Hooks said.

“There are various versions of some Shakespeare’s plays with alternate versions,” he said. “There’s a version of Hamlet that is half of its length. Pericles is the only “bad” text that is not also survived by a good text.”

The director of the production, Christine Kellogg, took on the challenge of bringing the play back to the Lower City Park Festival Stage.

Beginning her theater career as a dancer, Kellogg ascended through the ranks of choreography and stage direction before becoming an assistant director and, finally, a director.

“I’ve always had a foot in the door,” she said. “I’ve always been involved in theater since I can remember.”

Speaking about her experience directing Pericles, she described the nature of the play as one of Shakespeare’s true epics.

“There is nothing mundane [about what the characters] can do … [Pericles] gets lost at sea, he lands on shore and battles for his wife, he finds his wife, and [then] she dies in childbirth.”

Although it could come across as somewhat macabre, Kellogg argues that in the end, an ultimately uplifting message can be gleaned from the story.

“The good guys win, the bad guys lose … [in the end] it’s a magical tale about family,” she said.

Kellogg also said she enjoys the positive female representation in the play.

“The women are really, really strong,” she said. “They’re the ones who don’t lose hope … It’s really interesting how they all wait, how they all hold out.”

Catie Councell, who plays Dionyza in the production, said it is up to the cast members to build an “imaginary world” for the audience to delve into.

“You build that world; you live in that world,” she said. “But I always think of the audience as the other cast members who never showed up to rehearsal, so they’re not prepared.”

This sense of unpredictability actually served as stimulation for the actors, she said, and helped them to deliver a fresh and honest performance each night.

“It’s the energy [the audience] brings that does affect the performance,” she said. “It changes it night by night.”

And she noted an important difference between this production and “modern” plays.

“In contemporary plays, the goal is to keep it very ‘this is the world’ and ‘it’s not about you,’” Councell said.

But in this case — as in so many others — Shakespeare proves to be the exception.

“Shakespeare was all about the people out there, the Groundlings and the Queen,” Councell said.

“I’ll just be so excited,” she said. “It’s interesting, the [dynamic with the] audience is definitely something we look forward to. It affects how we perform.”

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