It’s not among Shakespeare’s most popular plays, but “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” full of drama, romance and bawdy humor, has lots to offer.
And San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s free al fresco production (in McLaren Park this weekend and next month in Cupertino) is a perfect opportunity to see the play — well, part of it, anyway — in a family-friendly staging, in playwright-actor Ellen McLaughlin’s fluid “translation” commissioned by Play On Shakespeare.
Actually, the staged version comprises only the last section of the play, which has been given the subtitle “This Great Miracle.” The first three sections are available to stream in three separate episodes. (Full disclosure: I only made it through the first two streamed episodes; S.F. Shakes’ technology, while improved since last summer’s “King Lear,” is nevertheless frustrating to watch.)
No matter. The live version gets you up to date quickly, with a comical introduction in which all eight actors appear onstage, and the wonderful Amy Lizardo, as a peripheral character throughout, narrates a synopsis of the first three sections: Pericles becomes king, seeks a queen, travels, has dangerous encounters, finds a bride, Thaisa, who by the fourth section has died in childbirth, or so it seems. It’s all finessed just briskly enough to be both entertaining and completely coherent. (The show runs about 70 minutes.)
This staged section of “Pericles,” as directed by Carla Pantoja, is minimalist in terms of sets and props, with the focus wisely on the actors, who are costumed in a vibrant array of out-of-time outfits by Katie Dowse. Many of the actors play several roles apiece, sometimes across genders, all to good effect.
This is also a “Pericles” that’s buoyantly physical, even musical, and the actors are well equipped in all areas. They play instruments (ukulele, guitar, rattles, drums and more) and sing at times. Alan Coyne in particular has excellent clowning skills, prancing and tumbling about and occasionally interacting with the audience.
In the first part of this fourth section, Marina (Carolina Morones), the long-lost daughter of Pericles, finds herself captive, more or less, in a brothel. The brothel’s madam (Mary Ann Rodgers, channeling a sort of hilariously malevolent Joan Rivers) is gleeful; the virtuous, virginal Marina is a real boon to business: “Never been anything like her in Italy!”
It’s not until a brothel patron, the governor (Ezra Reaves), shows up, that the upstanding Marina is rescued from her fate.
In the more solemn second half, a bereft Pericles (Ron Chapman, emotionally powerful), arrives on shore, believing that not just his wife, Thaisa (the always impressive Leontyne Mbele-Mbong), but also his daughter, Marina, is dead. Cue the inevitable joyous reunion, and an equally joyous return to the live stage for this stalwart theater company.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Presented by San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
Where: Jerry Garcia Amphitheatre, McLaren Park, 40 John F. Shelley Drive, S.F.
When: 2 p.m. Sept. 24-26
Contact: (415) 558-0888, sfshakes.org
Note: The show also runs at 4 p.m. Oct. 2-3 and Oct. 8-10 at Memorial Park Amphitheater, 21163 Anton Way, Cupertino; also, on-demand recordings of previous episodes in the series are online for a limited time at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6UcWURp0NIwmEcTZQFKpQg.