Things Must Be As They May

Pericles, Act II: Scenes 1-5

Well that was wondrous strange.

What started out to be a wicked Shakespearean tale about incest suddenly turned into a meandering Nicolas Cage movie, with all the preening, bluster and impressively meaningless setpieces filled with pointless confrontations, cockamamie romance and ham-fisted plot twists — all adding up to a massive shattering of the suspension of disbelief.

Or something like that.

My head hurts trying to recap the action. But the show must go on… And so, maybe I can do this a la Chris Berman’s Fastest Three Minutes in Sports on ESPN?

It all starts going south for me when Gower reenters to catch us up on the action, then excuses himself for taking longer than your great uncle regaling a Thanksgiving audience with tales from his adventures in WII.

In a shocking reversal (maybe it was back then, but I doubt it), Pericles has became the lone survivor from his charitable band of castaways when his ships ran aground after having to flee yet again from the evil Antiochus. Like in a bad episode of Run Joe Run, Cleon never even got to say goodbye.

Pericles washes ashore like a hunky, drowned rat in Pentapolis, the Greek soft porn capital lying somewhere on the far shores of Libia. He’s befriended by a trio of crusty but benign fishermen who promise to fill ‘im with flapjacks and get ‘im on his feet again because, lo, he just so happens to have arrived the day before yon fair princess’s birthday, when all the good knights will woo her virtuous blah blah blah.

Of course Pericles is in no shape to be a contestant on The Bachelorette. But the producers think otherwise, and conveniently wash ashore his father’s armour in a fishing net to quash his fears of mail envy (ha ha — that’s, ouch).

So the kid shows up at court. It’s kinda funny, actually, the few jokey lines the lords slip in who mock Pericles for his rusted tux. But the king calms them down with what could be a great line from Miyagi in the Karate Kid:

KING: Opinion’s but a fool that makes us scan

The outward habit by the inward man.

The funny thing is, though, the way the big Joust for the Virgin Princess competition is set up, I’m getting rather into the whole Medieval Times setup, kinda. I love how we’re introduced to the cast of macho suitors. I liken it to the start of The Amazing Race when each of the pairs gets tagged with a summary subtitle like “male lovers” or “best friends.”

Let’s see, there’s:

Bachelor #1

Hails from Sparta, so you know he’s the Vegas odds-on favorite. The line: superior in battle, questionable with a couplet, certain to wear the pants in the family. For the low-maintenance girl who does well with ample free time.

Bachelor #2

A prince of Macedon with a royal father and a Spanish accent that screams: “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” Think Antonio Banderas, but with a better lineage. The line: goes down easy, both on the court and off. Loses focus, but a riot when you’ve got his full attention. For the lady who has little need for steady eye contact while eating in public places.

Bachelor #3

Not much made of this bloke. Probably doomed like the black best friend in a B-grade detective drama when it was announced he hailed from Antioch. Suggests a twist that never materializes. The line: a longshot, to put it mildly. Pants on the Ground.

Bachelor #4

Shakespeare likely ran out of interesting points of origin when he spent his spare change on Antioch. Bearer of an odd gift: a burning torch turned upside down with the saying, “Who feeds me, extinguishes me.” The line: capable of anything. More than likely the candidate to pull a shady move and get expelled and vow revenge. For the lady who’s been bored lately and would give anything for a little novelty. Good luck making it last.

Bachelor #5

Also of no stated origin. Clearly here we’re waiting for the camera to pan to humble Pericles. This is the guy who gets the call from central casting that says, “We may lose you in editing.” Kevin Costner from the Big Chill before he was, you know, Kevin Costner, star of Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. The line: Kevin Costner after Waterworld.

Bachelor #6

The bedraggled stranger of rusted garb, but ladies are not fooled by this, and neither is the virtuous Thaisa. Though he bears only a withered branch with a sprouted top he carries the winsome motto: In this hope I live. Which the good King translates for his curious daughter as: “He ain’t got much, but he’s putting his faith in you.”

But, as if to prove why Pericles is not the programming you want for Sweeps month, we don’t QUICK CUT TO a Quentin Tarantino style postmodern spaghetti western Kill Will battle with lances and thrusts and bad sexual puns but rather jolly good dialogue filled with ha ha has and he he hes which convince the lady that Bachelor #6 is the one.

So no joust.

Which means, by then, all we’ve got left to sit through commercials for (or Tivo through) is the anticipation that Pericles will bed the girl, carry her over the threshold back home, avoid the screaming tabloids as he reclaims the rule of Tyre as a married man with a wife the gossiping masses don’t know — and exact some form of revenge on the incestuous Antiochus and his daughter.

Um, no.

For what we discover — painfully — is that Antiochus and said daughter were tooling around (not fooling around) in a phat chariot that suddenly went all spontaneous combustion and incinerated like a drummer from Spinal Tap or a generic thunderbolt from an unnamed Zeus. Revenge plot nixed. (“Hey, Hal? Gimme a rewrite. Is that Scott Frank available?”)

Preserving what’s left of the plot, however, the lords of Tyre have tired of life without Pericles. Though they much admire the Helicanus Administration, they need closure. A few vow to set sail and bring back their fearless leader, who, alas, has been gone too long and forgot his Blackberry, likely not knowing still the stale CNN crawler for news that stray fireball hath turned Antiochus into a marshmallow.

Hilarity ensues.

So okay, Chris Berman I’m not. You wanted clever nicknames?

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