Preston: So, Graydon, there was a pronounced sense of occasion at the Jan. 22 opening of “Pericles” at the Guthrie Theater. The brain trust of Twin Cities theater was present, as were important cultural and philanthropic leaders. All were eager to see the first show directed by the Guthrie’s new artistic director, Joe Haj.
Royce: Sue Gens, executive director of the State Arts Board, said it well in a Facebook post. She said she was “pleased to see so many Minnesota arts leaders” at the opening, “to support and celebrate the work of our new colleague and friend.” That counts for a lot.
Preston: If “Pericles,” both as a show and as an opportunity to a fractured community to gather, augurs the Haj era, what does it say?
Royce: Well, let’s hope it means we are done with this lesser Shakespeare and can move on to the real meat of the canon, to see what he can do. But, you’re speaking more broadly, yes?
Preston: Yes, and more to the sense of opportunity for the Guthrie and the community. To me, “Pericles” indicates that Haj has a broad, inclusive vision, epic aspiration and a desire to do shows that relate meaningfully to us where we are. Haj has a great visual sense, and his impulse seems to spring as much from the rituals of religion and even sports as it does from the traditions of theater. He wants something that helps us to see our searching selves.
Royce: I wholeheartedly agree. His sense for ritual and evoking cosmic resonance stood out for me and indicated a man of deep soul.
Preston: Director Joel Sass took on “Pericles” at the Guthrie in 2005, and that wasn’t as arresting or as memorable, at least to me. Haj’s staging had the added element of music [by composer Jack Herrick], which enlarges the soul of the piece while helping to sharpen its emotions.
Royce: I have no interest in slagging someone else’s work here, but, yes, Herrick’s compositions were integral to this production. Often music is added to Shakespeare, but I don’t know that I have ever felt it so powerfully and as essential to the storytelling as it was here.
Preston: Overall, I found the acting much more engaging than you did in your review. I thought the family at the center of the piece, including the tremulous Wayne T. Carr, was compelling. And their reunion was a cathartic experience for me. Still, early on I found myself recasting the show in my head with Twin Cities players. Gower, for example, easily could be played by, say, Stephen Yoakam, Izzy Monk or Sun Mee Chomet.
Royce: Well, we will have to agree to disagree on the acting. I’m not going to re-review the play. And I’m not going to recast it. I would only say that whatever cast you assemble, keep Jennie Greenberry as Marina.
Preston: Some directors approach Shakespeare with an outsized focus on the presentational aspects of his plays and less on their meaning and essence. I found “Pericles” to be a production with a big heart, telling a family-reunion story that resonates in an era of refugee crises. And its mosaic cast is one that looks like the globe of old and new.
Royce: I agree with the mosaic cast, and Haj should find Twin Cities audiences well attuned to that aesthetic. I watched a multicultural cast work “Great Expectations” at Park Square on Saturday. Sarah Rasmussen is doing an all-female “Two Gentlemen of Verona” with a cast that is diverse in race and age at the Jungle. Ten Thousand Things has made inclusion a major tenet, and we haven’t even mentioned Mixed Blood, Illusion and Penumbra. So Haj hasn’t invented this, but if he can galvanize this practice at the Guthrie, he’s got something we can look forward to.
Preston: What about the heart?
Royce: I honestly wondered if this production, which previously was performed in much smaller houses, lost some heart and strength in the Guthrie’s big room. If the staging got to me, it was through the music and the technical program and the ritual. I said what I said about the acting. I am curious to see how Haj uses that large stage when he is building from scratch — as he will do this summer in “South Pacific.”
Preston: Actually, I’m eager to see his take on “South Pacific,” as well. That show has great music and a problematic story that requires an honest reckoning and a smart treatment that does not shy away from the fact that it was crafted in a more benighted era.
Royce: Haj has struck me as honest and sincere enough to meet that head-on. We will see.