Pericles at the Guthrie Theater

Wayne T. Carr as Pericles. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Wayne T. Carr as Pericles. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Who wrote Pericles? Scholars argue. Some claim that William Shakespeare wrote it all. Or that he wrote none of it. Or that he wrote half of it (the last half). Or that he collaborated on the play with the well-known pimp George Wilkins (Wilkins’s “inn” was a brothel).

The Guthrie (where Pericles runs on the Wurtele mainstage through Feb 21) doesn’t hesitate: for the big G, Shakespeare wrote Pericles in its romantic, episodic, passionate, fairy-tale entirety.

And who can argue? The story of the peripatetic Pericles’s sea journeys really works. And this production is a stunner, swirling across Jan Chambers‘s deceptively simple set, the Shakespearean language – dense and difficult, even by the bard’s standard – flowing effortlessly. Despite, or perhaps because of, the episodic-ness of the play, the ending is hugely affecting. When the now-agèd Pericles (the powerful Wayne T. Carr) lifts his head to show us that his eyes still have a youthful spark, I wept. This Pericles hit me square in the heart.

The acting! Oh my God (he said, as reverently as possible). For one thing, the production originated (I believe) at Oregon Shakespeare, then played at the Folger in DC. IOW, the actors are not local; they are all making their Guthrie debuts and you don’t have to be a jaded theater reviewer to find this thrilling. Pericles offers an unparalleled opportunity to see important new talent.

And here I run up against the length problem. There is not room for me to enthuse wildly about everyone, as much as I would like to. Still I have to mention Carr in the title role. His muscular energy, his grasp of the language, his unflagging passion enraptured me throughout. He holds Pericles together.

And then the women: the beauteous (well, I found the whole cast beautiful) Jennie Greenberry as the yearning (and undeniably Shakespearean) Marina. Emily Serdahl, breath-taking as the statuesque Diana. Brooke Parks as Thaisa, Marina’s mother. She gives the best rendition of horny shyness you will ever see. Wow.

And the design: Raquel Barreto‘s endlessly interesting costumes. Rui Rita‘s perfect lighting. Amadon Jaeger‘s sound. Francesca Talenti‘s amazing sea video. Chambers’s all-encompassing paper maiché (?) clouds. This Pericles is an eye-feast (not that the actors give you much time to take in the design).

And the music, composed and directed by Jack Herrick. Perfect. It makes the show.

Pericles is, as you undoubtedly know, the directorial debut of the G’s new artistic director, Joseph Haj. No expense has been spared.


John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, about the magic of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has been published. A screenplay, A Slaying Song Tonight, has been optioned. In progress: a theatrical portrait of the great Anna May Wong. Please visit John’s informational website.

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