TAMPA — Don't think of Jobsite Theater's Pericles as a rock version of Shakespeare. Except for the skeletal remains of one of his least-known plays, there's virtually nothing of the bard in evidence.
The bare bones of the silly story are fleshed out with a barrage of great new songs by Tampa's former pop-punk king Joe Popp, great performances by a large cast and a fairly clever script by Neil Gobioff and Shawn Paonessa.
The result is an occasionally unwieldy but mostly incredibly enjoyable hybrid of theater and concert.
Gobioff and Paonessa, the team that created the wonderful March of the Kitefliers, transplant Pericles from ancient Greece to modern New York. They obviously had a lot of fun making the transition, turning noblemen into mafiosi and trading Tarsus for Coney Island. And despite some rather harsh plot points (incest, murder, forced prostitution) they pretty successfully turn the story into comedy.
Popp stands behind the action, in an elevated cage, with his guitar, sometimes playing John Gower, the 14th century poet whose work Shakespeare used as the basis for the play (and whom he incorporated into the play as a narrator). Popp also plays and sings along with cast members as a combination orchestra and chorus member.
Popp's songs have never been better, with great hooks and melodies tempered with punkish rawness. The cast features performers known mostly for their acting, but several of them (notably Ami Sallee Corley and Jason Vaughan Evans) reveal some really impressive pipes. There's really not a bad singer (or actor) in the eight-person cast.
The plot, however, is ridiculous, revolving around a mid-level mobster who figures out that one of the bosses is having sex with his own daughter. Worried about reprisal, he flees to Coney Island, then flees again by ship, wrecks and washes ashore on Cape Cod, where he meets a woman who bears his child but dies in childbirth, but then he gets amnesia and forgets he has a daughter until he almost has sex with her 18 years later.
Again, pretty silly — the kind of plot that we can excuse in Shakespeare because of the beauty of the language. Gobioff and Paonessa made a good choice in playing it mostly for laughs.
Weaknesses? A few. The playwrights' painfully obvious idea of turning the Prince of Tyre into the Prince of Tires is way beneath their talents. The play's also a good 20 minutes too long. And though the combination of theater and concert vibe works well, some more movement during the songs would have been nice. Mostly, the actors just grab microphones and sing. In the audience, you'd like to get up and dance, but since you can't, you'd like to at least watch the people on stage do it.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is that you can't buy a CD of these songs. They're almost all immediately engaging and you'd like to be able to hold onto them, but each new great song drives the memory of the previous one from your memory.