Enter Peter Sellars and Shakespeare Company; 'Doonesbury'; 'Belle'

Pericles has just endured a shipwreck that cost him his wife and nearly his life. Shakespeare's text leading into the scene reads: ENTER PERICLES. WET.

On stage in Peter Sellars's new production: A small bag containing perhaps half a cup of water slowly lowers from the ceiling, as a blues singer cries, ''They call it stormy Monday. . . . Tuesday's just as bad.'' And storyteller Brother Blue sprinkles the supine Pericles with drops of rain.m

A week ago Wednesday, stage director Peter Sellars entered the mainstream of Boston theater with his inaugural production for the Boston Shakespeare Company, and it was something akin to a comet streaking into our pedestrian orbits.

Before an audience packed with Boston cultural luminaries - including Action for Children's Television founder Peggy Charren, documentary filmmaker Fred Wiseman, and American Repertory Theatre's Robert Brustein - Sellars presented a ''Pericles'' that was, by turns, audacious, boring, splendid, touching, consummately theatrical, musical, and hilarious.

On a nearly bare stage, using masks and rudimentary props, Sellars gave us more theater (and longer theater, at 3 1/2 hours) than I have seen in a month of productions.

This ''Pericles'' may have proved that an army of scholarly minds has been too dusty and unimaginative in their views. (The play is generally written off by scholars as [1] not by Shakespeare; [2] not worthy of his talents; or [3] both.) Yet, for all its plottiness, it emerges in this production as a deep, searching study of family and the sins that undermine it.

Perhaps, in the process of bringing it to life, Sellars makes us toom conscious of his gifts, too aware of his precocity. And occasionally the thread of the play is thereby lost.

But he also gives us a ''Pericles'' that springs from word-for-word searching through the text, a ''Pericles'' that cuts across time and goes to the heart of human tragedy and triumph.

This ''Pericles'' staggers to its feet in the beginning, through lengthy expository dialogue which seems beyond the tongue of Ben Halley Jr. in the title role. For a while it seems wrapped up in its own trickery. But then it comes to life.

This comes in the breaking down of plot to discover the play's inner life. It comes in the translation of symbol into substance. But most of all it comes in Sellars's gift for creating scenes.

The incredible dinner scene, for instance - with Simonides, his knights, his daughter, and Pericles - emerges as the fulcrum of the play. It tells the sweet tale of love and courtship. It celebrates life. And everything that leads into it and away from it is so classically graceful under the rough humor that you want to see it preserved in amber.

In this scene, Sellars has the remarkable help of Sandra Shipley, whose womanliness and unfailing emotional instincts warm the event. Paul Redford leans a bit toward Michael Palin-esque cuteness (which seems all the more unnecessary in light of his obvious gifts) as Simonides; but his timing and delivery are devastatingly accurate.

Elsewhere in the drama, Henry Woronicz performs with nearly athletic grace in a handful of roles; and Sindri Anderson, as Dionyza, manages to convey momentous characterization through a mask that bears an unfortunate resemblance to the wicked witch in Disney's ''Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.''

Producer-director Mike Nichols has compared Sellars to Orson Welles. But the simple truth, so evident in the dinner scene, is that we are dealing more with a Luis Bunuel here. (I haven't seen anything that so organically balances symbol and event since the Last Supper scene in Bunuel's film ''Viridiana.'') And, while we are talking about film directors, an apt comparison can be drawn between Sellars's structural brilliance in assembling this work and that of Akira Kurosawa's in ''The Seven Samurai.''

Leaving the theater, I had the slightly uncomfortable feeling one gets after a Thanksgiving dinner. I wished that Sellars had laid off the dressing and stuffing somewhat. But I also had that other aftereffect of Thanksgiving: a healthy sense of gratitude for a new star in our all-too barren crown of theatrical lights. Halfway house for cartoons

''Doonesbury'' has an identity crisis.

The Broadway musical comedy based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip - playing through Oct. 29 at the Wilbur Theatre - certainly barrels out its share of laughs, especially in the second act. There are performances that almost approximate G. B. Trudeau's etched-in-acid characters - Gary Beach as Duke comes closest of all; Albert Macklin's Zonker is also a close shot - and some of the humor translates into stagecraft.

But here you have this laid-back comic strip, with these Broadway show types trying to pump it up into three-dimensional form. Hence, the identity crisis.

Director Jacques Levy attempts to bridge the gap between play and comic strip with a lot of sideways body language. (In the first and last number, it almost looked as if they were going to break into Nijinsky's ''The Afternoon of a Faun.'') To little avail.

The music of Elizabeth Swados, noted for her Broadway triumph ''Runaways,'' tries to pour '60s heat into '70s-cool humor. The result is that we alternate all night between meltdown and freeze-up.

''Doonesbury'' almost works. But it winds up a stock rock musical trying to slide into the wry, intelligent posture of political wit.

From a Boston Arts contributorm:

''The Belle of Amherst'' starts out as a small, quiet play, distant from its audience. By the end, however, actress Jane Staab magically draws you into her living room. The sofas and chairs the audience sits on almost seem to be Emily Dickinson's, and this one-woman show playing at the Wheelock Family Theatre is a gem for those who love poetry or the Belle herself.

Staab's Emily lives up to the rebel image of that poet - fighting through her poetry against small-town narrow-mindedness that would limit her as a ''spinster'' - as well as the wordsmith reveling in such words as phosphorescence - ''now there's a word to lift your hat to!''

Staab is a taller, perhaps more common-sensical Emily than the one made famous by Julie Harris. She starts out a bit smug when she makes fun of gossipy villagers.But the actress grows into the role, and by the end of the play I silently agreed with one audience member who said she was ''incandescent.''

Director Susan Kosoff makes an interesting statement in her choice of costume and set decorations. This 19th-century poet may be a spinster, but she's not prim. Yes, Emily's dress is the famous bridal white, but her cloak is bright red and the bedspread pink.

The pace droops occasionally and her young Emily is a bit smarmy, but overall it's a masterly job. (Playing through Oct. 30.) - Catherine Foster

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