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Playmakers Rep presents: Pericles

Photo by Kirk Ross. Composer Jack Herrick confers with Playmakers director Joseph Haj and trumpeter Marianne Miller about a tune in Pericles. The play opens next week.By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer

As in many of Shakespeare’s plays, over the course of Pericles the protagonist loses everything – family, love, fortune and friends.

“But unlike other plays, he doesn’t do anything wrong to lose everything,” said Joe Haj, producing artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Theater and director of the company’s production of Pericles.

Moreover, “He gets it all back, and he doesn’t do anything right to get it back.”

Pericles is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, which some consider to be a “problem play,” but Haj wanted to bring it to the stage of the Paul Green Theater to hopefully share his love and understanding of the play with a larger audience.

“I think it really is much more the way life actually goes, where it’s not just the very good people who get the good things,” he said. “I think that’s where the play is profound and successful.”

PlayMakers has produced Pericles once before, during the 1991-92 season at the theater, but this production is different, featuring the original music of Jack Herrick of the Red Clay Ramblers.

While not a musical, the production places a heavy emphasis on Herrick’s music, which he performs with 14 cast members throughout the production. Both Haj and Herrick felt the music should play an important part in the play, which begins, after all, with the words of Gower, “To sing a song that old was sung…”

Herrick said he used some of the text of the play in the song lyrics he wrote for the production, as many of the words seemed to flow into song. Building on the text, Herrick wrote songs to help tell the tale of Pericles’ adventures across foreign lands and oceans.

“I wanted to find a style that would be appropriate for the piece and the production, so the first job was to figure out a musical style that would fit with the text,” Herrick said, describing the music he wrote for the play as “a cross between old-timey and middle eastern.”

Herrick isn’t new to creating music for theatrical productions. He and the Red Clay Ramblers have produced music for a number of plays, and when the Ramblers couldn’t fit Pericles into their schedule, Herrick decided to do it on his own.

“I really enjoy writing songs to go along with Shakespeare’s text,” Herrick said, adding that he couldn’t turn down an opportunity to work with a local production.

“Usually I have to travel to some distant city or country,” he said. The last play he produced music for was rehearsed and produced in Wales.

Haj said the production benefited from having Herrick involved at every step along the way.

“Jack was able to build the music going along with the talents of the cast,” he said. While some cast members sing, others play the guitar, flute or other instruments throughout the production.

“It’s an incredibly talented cast musically,” Haj said.

The production also features a unique set, with an ocean built into the stage.

“We thought that getting water into the set was a really, really important element,” Haj said. Pericles spends much of the play traveling across oceans.

Although Pericles is known by few, Haj said he hopes that people will come to see the play and understand why it was one of Shakespeare’s most popular during his lifetime.

“Our theater has a long history of producing Shakespeare’s plays,” Haj said. “You can’t spend all your time in the middle of the hit parade.”

Performances will run Sept. 24 to Oct. 12, with shows at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 4; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $10 to $40. Free post-show discussions will be held Oct. 1 and Oct. 5. In addition, on Oct. 7 PlayMakers will offer an all-access performance with sign-language interpretation and audio description for attendees with special needs.

For a schedule or to purchase tickets, call 962-PLAY or visit www.playmakersrep.org.

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