Poor Pericles. Shakespeare's wandering, purposeless hero has become something of a punching bag for directors who want to put their stamp on the bard's late-career farrago.
Michelle Hensley, working within the intimate signature of Ten Thousand Things Theatre, has tuned the play with a galvanizing concept that Pericles has invited his own sad adventures through his clueless treatment of women.
Take the opening scene, in which Pericles perceives that the evil Antiochus has been abusing his daughter. Pericles flees because he knows Antiochus will kill him for discovering this secret. At play's end, our hero is scolded for leaving the daughter in a bad situation.
Similarly, Pericles takes heat for allowing his apparently dead wife to be thrown off a ship in a tempest. And he placed his infant daughter with a psychotic queen who tries to kill the maiden. Either choose your day care provider more wisely or take your daughter with you.
Hensley introduces these perorations in a speech given by the goddess Diana — a speech written by playwright Kira Obolensky and added to the text. The director reckons that Shakespeare is dead, we are alive and besides, the authorship of Pericles has been debated.
All that is fair enough, and given the amount of lipstick that directors apply to the lesser Shakespeare plays, a case could be made that Ten Thousand Things knows its audience in creating a morality story about standing by your women.
The dissonance is that actor Ansa Akyea creates such a sympathetic and noble Pericles that it seems a little mean to shame him.
Akyea carries the burden of life heavily on his shoulders and on his worried brow. He thought he was doing the right thing. He appears dutiful to his country and feels the whipsaw caprice of fate. Akyea's Pericles is heartbroken and beaten, humbled by his misadventures, but there is no redemption for him. Just a rap on the knuckles.
Akyea is one of four actors who dominate Hensley's staging, which opened Friday at Open Book in Minneapolis. Karen Wiese-Thompson is the wise and knowing Gower, the story's narrator. And in a neat theatrical trick, she transforms into Diana, a bristling and righteous goddess.
Pearce Bunting plays a series of bad men with frightening reality and two goofy characters with sharp observation. Tatiana Williams finds her footing as the crackling smart Marina, Pericles' daughter.
As always, not enough can be said about Peter Vitale's soundscape, which provides the production's mythic texture. Trevor Bowen's costumes use a ragged color scheme to distinguish the many double-cast actors.
Is Pericles guileless or a feckless bumbler who needs to pay attention to women? In Shakespeare's malleable script, there is room for whatever you want.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune theater critic. He can be reached at email@example.com.