Pericles by Ten Thousand Things Theatre

Tatiana Williams and Audrey Park in Pericles. Photo by Paula Keller.

Tatiana Williams and Audrey Park in Pericles. Photo by Paula Keller.

Shakespeare’s Pericles is an almost perfect play for Ten Thousand Things and their target audience. TTT performs all of its plays free of charge at schools, correctional facilities, women’s shelters and other institutions before coming to Open Book in Minneapolis to perform for the paying public. TTT settles into Open Book for a substantial run – Oct 14 through Nov 6. It also plays a single weekend in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio – Oct 27-30. Check out TTT’s website for exact dates and times.

What makes Pericles suitable is its uncomplicated structure. The Prince of Tyre, Pericles by name, sails to Antiochus to court the king’s daughter and take her for a wife. When Pericles discovers the king’s incestuous relationship with the daughter Pericles flees, fearing for his life. The rest of the play is taken up with several voyages to several other ports which lead to many other adventures including marriage to the princess Thaisa of Pentopolis. Pericles’ new wife then dies in childbirth on board a ship in a raging storm.

Unlike other Shakespeare plays, Pericles spends little or no time in Hamlet-like introspection. The play is all picaresque plot and colorful caricatures and director Michelle Hensley, with some deft cutting of the script, makes the most of it. It is an evening of broad gestures and quick action.

Ansa Akyea gives the play some heft with his sincere portrayal of Pericles. The supporting cast, all playing multiple roles, are witty and solemn, menacing and ingratiating by turns. Peirce Bunting is especially good at this, moving from severe ruler as King of Antioch in the opening scene of the play, to a grinning, Mad Hatter–like King of Pentapolis, in the second act and finally to a drag-queen brothel owner near the end of the play. Maggie Chestovich and James Rodriguez also make the most of their multiple roles.

It is Karen Wiese-Thompson who deserves most praise. As Gower, the play’s narrator, she literally commands the stage guiding the audience through the story. At play’s end, as the Goddess Diana, she brings the play to its conclusion—an ending that has been rewritten by director Hensley and playwright-in-residence, Kira Obolensky to call out portions of the play’s most egregious misogyny. Wiese-Thompson, in the guise of Diana, delivers the moral lesson with grace.

Music director Peter Vitale adds to the proceedings with a precise percussion score. The deconstructed costumes, designed by Trevor Bowen in the ragged-and-patched style which is fashionable on stage these days, are not quite as well executed as they might be but they fulfill their function and add necessary color.

We live in a time of great interest in Shakespeare’s works with productions mounted everywhere from small parks to Broadway and on film. It is not surprising that some of the Bard’s least known plays are getting more attention. We also live in a time when it is easy to imagine sailing from port to port and finding in succession: incest, famine, true love, and sex trafficking. Some of those things are, unfortunately, timeless. Hensley, her cast and crew speak out against them.

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