Fans of downtown Baltimore’s Chesapeake Shakespeare Company have long considered their yearly al fresco performances in Ellicott City as a favorite summertime happening. This year, CSC renews the tradition as its post-shutdown comeback, offering in-person performances of their 18th production at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park. The show is an abridged, family-friendly version of Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” entitled “The Adventures of Pericles,” and directed by Matthew R. Wilson. The story is a rollicking romp — boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy loses girl but gains a daughter, boy loses daughter… and given the tone and style of the piece it’s no spoiler to say that a very happy ending eventually ensues.
…’Pericles’ provided an ideal excuse to celebrate.…go see this show.
The overarching (and wonderfully overwhelming, at times) sense of this production is that everybody is here TO PLAY. Dan O’Brien’s set is a combination of sailing ship and schoolyard playground, complete with a trampoline and all sorts of jungle gym equipment. The aforementioned trampoline, audiences quickly learn, serves not only to propel the actors (and one hilarious prop gag), but might also have been a thorn in the side of Sound Designer Kaydin Hamby, whose work is a brilliant realization of Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic. Costumes by Kristina Lambdin employ a tried and true formula of using color changes to indicate switches to new locations and characters. Mollie Singer’s props, along with O’Brien’s playground, give the cast plenty to play with, and they use it all to dazzling effect.
Director Wilson certainly puts his cast of eight through their paces here. The show is chock full of tightly choreographed physical business to go along with the prop gags, sight gags, and general zaniness. We hear the song “Yakety Sax” (the Benny Hill theme) as one knight’s walk-up music, and that joyful, silly moment completely encapsulates the giddiness that shines over the entire affair. There are goofy bits of license taken with the text, as well. When Pericles (Jose Guzman) is about to lose a dance battle, he pulls a trump card by rushing downstage with a copy of the show’s poster and mugs “But I’m the title character!” Again, this play is about PLAY and the playing that’s happening is not reserved solely to the stage’s occupants. A sold-out opening night audience was clearly in the mood to enjoy themselves and each other again. It was more than a year since most of them had seen in-person theater and just 24 hours after the State of Maryland’s lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. The expressions of relief and release seemed euphoric and “Pericles” provided an ideal excuse to celebrate.
Guzman, showing through-the-roof energy and deft comic timing, is not the only star here. CSC has a true ensemble on its hands with this play. Lolita Marie is a treasure. Chania Hudson is electric. Company regular Molly Moores is rock solid. Elizabeth Ung, well known in Baltimore for great work with small companies, delivers brilliantly in her CSC debut.
The outdoor arrangement is such that the setting sun is behind trees before 7:30 pm, so even on a warmer evening, there’s shade by showtime. Twilight gathers through the first half or so, and the simple front-light towers take effect in time for curtain call. Check the weather forecast, and go see this show.
Running Time: 76 minutes without intermission.
“The Adventures of Pericles” runs through August 1, 2021 at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City, presented by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. Tickets are $24 to $48 and available online. For more information call (410) 244-8570 or email email@example.com.