WHYY Report: Kensington neighbors make Shakespeare their own

This report appeared on WHYY on August 13, 2021, by Peter Crimmins. Click the link below to listen to or read the report.

The Shakespeare in Clark Park production of "Peril’s Island" pays homage to a fabled fountain in Harrowgate Park. The dance/theater performance was created in collaboration with residents of North Philadelphia. This weekend, a group of residents in the area around Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood will be staging an experimental version of a Shakespeare play. They will be taking liberties with “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” deconstructing it into a performance that reflects their own experiences.

“This is if you just took one little, microscopic part of William Shakespeare and turned that into something bigger,” said Monica Wright, a participant in the theater project and the owner of Mango Bahia, a small restaurant at the corner of Harrowgate Park. Similar to what playwright Tom Stoppard did in his celebrated play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” based on two minor characters from “Hamlet,” this play borrows its structure from Pericles’ story of visiting a string of kingdoms by ship and encountering adventures in each one. “Peril’s Island” then takes its own path. This play features the title character Peril, an amnesiac trying to remember her own past, visiting a string of abstracted memories enacted through pre-recorded sound and choreographed movement. The lead character is portrayed by two actors: the older character finds herself face-to-face with her younger self.

Performed in the round, there are six speakers surrounding the center circle of Harrowgate Park, each playing back a different conversation pulled from Peril’s memory set to original music. In the center, the cast of characters silently performs six narrative dance sequences. Depending on where you’re standing in the park, the experience will be different for different sections of the audience.

“Peril’s Island” is a production of Shakespeare in Clark Park, which annually produces free, outdoor plays in West Philadelphia. It just completed its run of “Pericles,” more or less faithful to the original script. This year the company has expanded into other parks in other Philadelphia neighborhoods, using Shakespeare as a launching point to engage residents in a creative process to devise their own stories. This weekend is “Peril’s Island” in Harrowgate/Kensington. Next weekend will be “Germantown Plays Pericles,” in Germantown’s Vernon Park, set up as a performative neighborhood fair featuring art installations, music, games, and local neighborhood organizations arranged in six thematic sections corresponding with six themes from “Pericles.”