THEATER REVIEW MIT Shakespeare Ensemble Performs ‘Pericles’

An Obscure Work is the Engineer’s Play


MIT Shakespeare Ensemble

Directed by Dahlia Al-Habieli (Wellesley ’07)

March 12-14 and 19-21

La Sala de Puerto Rico, MIT Stratton Student Center

Drama is tough. It takes a lot time, a lot of money, and a lot of otherwise unemployed people willing to sacrifice both soul and social life for the glory of a few good performances. Unlike some of the other arts, which are often solitary, drama is always about other people: the audience, the cast, the director. No production is “pure” in that sense, but rather the amalgam of a host of other people’s opinions and decisions.

All of this makes theatre particularly difficult to conduct at MIT, where one can’t afford to spend months becoming a single character. Drama requires transformation, but the MIT workload is marvelous at keeping that from happening (it’s hard to have time for yourself, much less your fictional counterpart). Which is why I’m glad to congratulate the cast and crew of Pericles for an engaging and effective performance.

The performance was significant on several levels. Most obvious, perhaps, was the director’s choice of performance. Pericles itself is not the most well-known of Shakespeare’s plays, and, among critics, not the most popular (though contemporary critics have been kinder than Shakespeare’s peers). It has much less of the moral dilemma you’d find in Macbeth, and very little psychological tension, a la King Lear. It’s aligned much more closely to the likes of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, particularly in its episodic and fantastical quality. Pericles is at its core an adventure story, a pudding of morality tales, action scenes, and social commentary. It lacks the cohesiveness of Shakespeare’s better-known works, but gets in return a far less pretentious quality.

This is what makes it a perfect choice for a cast largely composed of engineers. A play with the emotional intensity of Hamlet teeters constantly on the edge of absurdity, even in the hands of an expert cast. Pericles remedies that by not trying. There’s no choice but to suspend your disbelief. In fact, Pericles may well be thought of as a study in disbelief. The format of the play made good use of the natural talents of the cast, and let the cast explore their individual characters with a flexibility not afforded in other works.

Anna Krohn (Wellesley ’08) put on a notable performance as the chorus-like Gower, framing the drama between different acts. Krohn’s believability was a good foil to the absurdity of the rest of the play, and it’s to her credit that a character that doesn’t interact physically with any others was able to aptly color the rest of the cast’s performance.

Zachary Tribbet ’12 and Rachel Williams ’12 also stood out as Pericles and his daughter Marina, locking together certain key scenes, particularly Marina’s Act IV enslavement in a brothel, and the reuniting of the pair in Act V.