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.

5 comments for “Pericles by Ten Thousand Things Theatre

  1. Mari Wittenbreer
    February 19, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    Been a long time since I visited this site and I did just now by accident. I need to clear up a misconstruction–I was not making any assumptions about TTT’s audiences, since TTT’s audiences include the full range of socio-economic persons in our community. I was speaking of staging and technical demands.

    As for those pesky costumes, the fact that some of them looked like they were about to fall apart with one more swing of the arms rated the comment that they were poorly executed. Though of course all costumes are arguably, wearable art, the craftsmanship was lacking. Sorry, just a fact.

    So surprised that this near rave review has gotten two negative–and anon.– comments.

  2. Anonymous
    October 23, 2016 at 7:58 am

    What makes this play suitable for TTT target audiences is its “uncomplicated structure”? Did I read that right? Because that’s a terribly privileged assumption to make about TTT’s audiences.

  3. Mari Wittenbreer
    October 18, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks John for adding this helpful material. I had to cut much of this from my review, given the word count restraints. If people want to know more I hope they read your comments.

  4. Anonymous
    October 18, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I could not disagree more vehemently with the reviewer’s dismissive snark about Trevor Bowen’s creative costuming. IMHO, the dazzlingly inventive and imaginative “wearable art” is a highlight of this production, along with the gifted acting and music-making we value in a TTT performance. Though a blogger isn’t required to share my fashion sensibilities, I take exception to works of virtuosic and painstaking craftsmanship being characterized as “not quite as well-executed as they might be.”

  5. October 16, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    As many astute theater-goers know, the Guthrie not long ago mounted a lush, evocative, big-stage production of this seldom-performed and always (deservedly) cut-to-shreds piece. Having seen the big G’s version, I badly want to see what this spunky, actor-focused theater does with the material.

    Mari Wittenbreer points out that Michelle Hensley and Kira Oblensky have rewritten the play. Rewriting Shakespeare? This takes cojones.

    But the real question is: who wrote the original play? A minority of scholars believe Shakespeare wrote the whole thing. Most academicians believe the bard collaborated (if this is the right word) with pimp-extraordinaire George Wilkins.

    But what does it matter. TTT has presented us with a rich play-going opportunity. Seize it.

How Was the Show for You?

Your email address will not be published.