Tim Casto as Pericles in the Utah Shakespearean Festival's 2010 production of The Adventures of Pericles. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespearean Festival 2010).

CEDAR CITY — The Adventures of Pericles, as presented by the Utah Shakespearean Festival, directed by Kathleen F. Conlin, was a bold undertaking of a decidedly controversial piece of Shakespeare. Despite the possible criticism the company could have faced, they not only took the project on full throttle, but managed to present a fantastic rendition of what may possibly be the first of William Shakespeare’s great romance series.

As my guest and I made our way to our seats, the excitement in the air was contagious. Lucky us, the day we chose to see the production, was the same day Southern Utah University was hosting hundreds of high school students who were in town for the 2010 High School Shakespeare Competition. I have to admit, my first thought was ‘Great, we’ve come on teeny bopper night.”  As the story unfolded on stage however, it became evident that the enthusiasm the young audience brought to the performance was immeasurable.

I was amazed at the enormity of the set Jo Winiarski had designed. The stage itself was split in two, offering a permanent home for our narrator, Gower (George Walker). Gower’s platform of random TV sets and various electronic devices allowed him the ability to broadcast an image of what he was describing to those of us in the audience onto the stage beside him.

Gower did a great job of informing the audience and letting them decide for themselves if what they were seeing was able to be believed. Each time Gower would share an excerpt of what was yet to come, he would flick and switch various buttons until the lights (Donna Ruzika) went up on the rest of the stage illuminating the portion of the tale to be told.

The raised platform beside Gower took up two thirds of the stage and allowed the performance to appear as if it were the broadcast of a life-size, 3D version, of what would normally be seen as projected video onto a movie screen. The broadcasting platform was round with the image of an ancient globe detailing the floor. It held a prodigious sail behind it that reached far up into the heavens tempting the sea gods with each venture Pericles, prince of Tyre (Tim Casto), absconded on.

The oceans waves writhing in the background were made known by the bodies that delicately undulated back and forth in a swirling motion through beautifully choreographed dance (Lise Mills). The dance that continued throughout the play was both beautiful and distracting. More than once I found myself so mesmerized by the movement, that I had forgotten to pay attention to what was actually happening in the play. The story, thankfully, was good enough to pull me back in every time I would stray.

I loved that way the projection designer, Daniel Heffernan, used the images through light to intensify the mood by projecting a variety of images onto the dancers as they told the story in the background. The use of the projected image was actually quite complimentary to the way the set had been designed and that narration was handled. I really loved the way the two sides of the stage were unified by having the same image that was projected onto the sail repeated in the televisions on Gower’s platform.

The lighting provided by Donna Ruzika was impeccable and managed to do a effectively separate the narrative stage from the performance stage, even though they were on the same physical stage. There were times that I even forgot the narrator was off to the side flicking switches. Then poof, there he’d be again, as if he had never gone anywhere.

I really enjoyed the humor in this tragicomedy. Though it was a bit bawdy at times, it was clever and witty, leaving me to think about what just happened for a moment until it finally hit me. When Pericles’s daughter Marina (Mariko Nakasone) is sold to a brothel and refuses to compromise her virtue, I was admittedly impressed at her ability to change her suitor’s minds. The funny part was, not only did they walk away, but they paid her before leaving in a stupor, not even knowing what happened to them.

The roller coaster of tragic events was well balanced with the comedic moments that lightened up the serious discussions that were taking place throughout the romance. The idea of having to lose both your wife and your daughter only to find them later still alive, and only by chance, is definitely one full of romantic overture.

The costumes designed by Jennifer Caprio were great, but having a multitude of friends that are part of the local belly dancing community, it was difficult for me to not wonder why one of them had not been consulted for the seductive dance provided for Pericles during the play. Not only would the dress have been more accurate but the dance of seduction as well. Belly dancing is the art of celebrating women and femininity and there are techniques involved that were lacking here.

Not a fan of being trampled, and being low enough to the ground that I am missed easily in a crowd, I felt my safest bet during intermission was to stay still in my seat. I was later informed that I was smarter than my neighbor who waited almost the entire break in line to get into the ladies room. During the return of the youth, however, I could hear the girl in front of me sharing with her friends about the USF pin she had gotten in the lobby that she couldn’t wait to put on her wallet and couldn’t resist the contagious pleasure vibe. These kids were obviously having the time of their lives.

The rest of the play went quickly, so quickly in fact, that I found myself sad to see it end. During the two-plus hours I had spent with the cast and the audience, at some point it felt as though we all gelled, becoming this one great coalescence of theater energy that could be stopped at nothing. The actors and the spectators had connected in a way that I have only seen happen a few times over the years, which only proves to solidify the argument that my theater professor reiterated day after day.

Pericles was a fantastic adventure and The 2010 High School Shakespeare Competition only served to add fantastic flavor to an already well crafted experience. Thanks USF.

The Utah Shakespearean Festival production of The Adventures of Pericles plays in the Randall L. Jones Theatre on the campus of Southern Utah University at 2 PM on October 19 and 21, and 7:30 PM on October 22, before closing.  Tickets are $25-59.  For more information, visit www.bard.org.