Review: Jobsite's Pericles Rocks the Bay

By Mark E. Leib
August 8, 2009

Pericles is a fitting cap to Jobsite Theater's tenth season, a noisy, funny, unpredictable rock musical featuring the impressive guitar work of Joe Popp and the splendid performances of seven inspired actors.

Neil Gobioff and Shawn Paonessa's adaptation of Shakespeare's play makes more sense than Shakespeare does; by turning the Bard's characters into Mafia thugs, and his locations (Tyre, Tarsus, Pentapolis) into recognizable American locales (Coney Island, the Bronx, Cape Cod), Gobioff and Paonessa have succeeded in domesticating one of the wildest, hardest-to-follow plays in the canon, while still showing remarkable fidelity to the original.

This adaptation and Popp's music -- which is muscular and jarring, melodic at times and then bracingly dissonant -- deserve a larger venue than the Shimberg Playhouse at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. In fact, watching the show, I kept thinking about the Shakespeare in the Park series that American Stage used to offer, and of Demens Landing, where hundreds of spectators with blankets and cushions used to assemble every spring. Pericles is every bit as good as The Bomb-itty of Errors or any other of the Park Shakespeares (a lot better than some), and it makes me wonder if Jobsite might become a source for annual Stratfordian pleasures now that American Stage prefers modern musicals.

In any case, if you love the Bard, good rock music, The Sopranos or just edgy theater, Pericles is a must-see. It's an eloquent reminder of how indispensable Jobsite has become in ten years, and how consistently daring.

In Gobioff and Paonessa's adaptation, it's mob figure Perry (and not Prince Pericles of Tyre) who discovers that boss Fat Tony (and not King Antiochus) is having an incestuous relationship with his daughter Gina. When Fat Tony realizes that he's been exposed, he sends killer Nico to murder Perry, and Perry runs off to various points in Brooklyn. At Coney Island he meets the very funny and vulgar couple Cleo and Dion (Cleon and Dionyza of Tarsus in the original) and then proceeds up the East Coast in a boat. Washing ashore on Cape Cod, he falls in love with Talia, daughter of a country club plutocrat (King Simonides) who doesn't want his daughter carousing with a low-class greaser. But Perry wins a crucial golf tournament, takes to sea again with his now-wife Talia, and she gives him a daughter -- but dies (apparently) in childbirth. Back at Coney Island, Perry entrusts Cleo and Dion with baby Marina -- but Dion's not to be trusted. There are several more twists and turns -- all with analogies in Shakespeare's original -- and then a Hollywood ending at a convent (the temple of Diana) featuring a raucous eunuch, a mother superior and everyone Perry could hope to rediscover. All's well that ends well.

And all's well with the personnel that Jobsite has chosen for this delightful romp. First, there's composer/lyricist Popp, who spends the whole play in a raised cage at the back, playing thrilling live guitar over recorded (and driving) bass and drums. Then there's lead actor Stephen Ray, whose Perry is a dim but searching Mafia bad guy, out only to save his own life at first, but eventually conscious that wife and daughter are also worthy. As Marina, Perry's grown daughter, Jobsite newcomer Katie Castonguay is just the golden-hearted whore to convince a john that he'd rather be with his therapist, and also in his first Jobsite show, Christopher Perez is wonderful as Fat Tony, Cleo and Talia's father Simon.

As Cleo's wife Dion, Amy E. Gray is one of the crudest, most uncultured hotties in New Yawk, and Ami Sallee Corley is a passionate, if rather unglamorous, Talia. Spencer Meyers shines in several parts, especially as the aforementioned happy eunuch, and Jobsite workhorse Jason Vaughan Evans is a cheerfully reptilian Lizard as well as a priest whose golf prowess turns out to be personally dangerous. There's not much to say about Brian Smallheer's mostly empty set, but Katrina Stevenson's costumes, from Perry's suits to Cleo's shorts, are nicely emblematic. David M. Jenkins, Jobsite's head, directs with formidable skill.

So happy tenth anniversary to Jobsite Theater, and congratulations on continuing to grow with each production. Pericles is outstanding: it's good music, good theater and remarkably faithful Shakespeare. It's the sort of theater one expects to find only in a major metropolis.

Tampa's fortunate to be its host.

Also See:

'Pericles' rock musical makes Bard's tale sing – Tampa Tribune

'Pericles' pops, thanks to Joe Popp – St. Petersburg Times

Jobsite's 'Pericles' – ARTS NET, Tampa Bay

Pericles, Prince of Tires – Reax Music

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