Naked Shakespeare, the Portland acting ensemble that presents the works of William Shakespeare informally and sometimes in unlikely places, will stage one of the playwright’s lesser known works this week at Space Gallery. The troupe will stage “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” with words, music and puppetry. Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Sarah Barlow, the company’s artistic director, chose “Pericles” because it’s rarely performed and is among the plays attributed to Shakespeare but whose authorship is questioned by scholars. Barlow understands the genesis of those questions. Some of the lines read like Shakespeare wrote them; others do not. Most people who study Shakespeare think he wrote at least part of the script. The rest? Who knows. Perhaps he worked as a mentor to a young writer, who wrote the rest.
“Many of the lines are a little funky,” Barlow said. “Let’s just say that it’s not as smooth at ‘Hamlet.’ ”
But it’s still worthy of attention, she said. Like a lot of Shakespeare plays, this one involves a king, a prince, shipwrecks, storms and a young virgin. And like all Naked Shakespeare productions, this one will be presented with spare methods when it comes to staging, props and costumes, but Barlow’s aesthetic also involves music, dance and puppets, which add “a more full-bodied and sensory experience” of the play, Barlow writes in her director’s notes. “As this play is essentially a fantastical fairytale, it lends itself well to these facets, and utilizes the additional skills of our ensemble beyond simple delivery of the text. And, we hope, will breathe new life into the audience’s experience of theater in general, but definitely of Shakespeare,” she writes.
The Naked Shakespeare ensemble has taken on many forms since its founding in 2004 and had a revolving roster of performers. It started off presenting short and spontaneous programs as part of its Wine Bar series, which expanded to different bars and venues and included, most recently, a First Friday series of performances at the Mechanics’ Hall in downtown Portland. Over the years, it also has produced adaptations of full-length plays, including “Hamlet” at the University of Southern Maine, which marked Barlow’s debut with the company.
“It metamorphosized from the original concept,” she said, “and we are exploring different ways to bring Shakespeare to audiences. But it’s still about surprise and anticipation, and it’s all based on the idea of getting people to come in and enjoy Shakespeare.”
At the core of Naked Shakespeare is the idea that Shakespeare’s words and ideas are accessible, even among people who might not be familiar with his writing. By presenting the words mostly unadorned, or naked, the troupe makes it easier for the audience to appreciate what the playwright says and how he says them, Barlow said.
The troupe operates under the arm of Acorn Productions, a theater education company that recently moved its headquarters from Portland to 528 Main St. in the Thornton Heights neighborhood of South Portland. Acorn began 25 years ago with the goal of teaching ordinary people how to act.
David S. Handwerker, a member of the “Pericles” cast, is among them. Handwerker joined Naked Shakespeare five years ago at the urging of a friend. He had no direct acting experience, but was interested in puppets and theater. “I never thought I’d be acting, let alone doing Shakespeare,” he said. “But here I am.”
The Naked Shakespeare troupe includes about 16 members. A dozen will be involved in this production, which will be performed in the round at Space, with musicians.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: $20, $15 students and seniors; brownpapertickets.com