“Pericles” by Ten Thousand Things

The Minneapolis company tackles a difficult Shakespeare epic

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Ansa Akyea tackles the title role in Pericles

photo by peter vitale

Pericles has long been regarded as a wild card in the Shakespeare canon, and for good reason: It’s a weirdly structured odyssey stuffed with extremes of bad fortune, pain, and betrayal spanning decades in which the hero gains and loses a wife and daughter. It’s also had to weather well-founded accusations of an undertow of misogyny.

Still, it’s Shakespeare, wildly imaginative and with moments of true beauty. Ten Thousand Things director Michelle Hensley seeks to mine those bittersweet nuggets for her company’s audience—a mix of prison inmates and clients of low-income shelters, as well as conventional theatergoers—in order to accentuate the titular hero’s travails through a life in which he’s both wracked and buffeted by fate.

Hensley’s vision also encapsulates a lens in which the female characters have more agency and perspective than in a traditional staging. “I want to take a look at these women and Pericles’s relationship to them,” Hensley says. “He doesn’t really deal with their plight and their suffering—he’s unable to imagine it.”

Pericles led off the Joseph Haj era at the Guthrie last season (TTT had previously applied for funding for its own version), but there seems little likelihood that the two productions will tread the same ground. For example, the role of the narrator Gower is played by a woman (typically it’s a male role): Karen Wiese-Thompson, a terrific Shakespearean actor and one of the underrated forces on the scene. Hensley also mentions actors playing multiple roles in a way that will surprise.

There is a beating heart at the core of Pericles, which includes one of the great reunion scenes ever written—one that wouldn’t have its substantial impact without all the hardship and all of the painful changes that come before it.

“Family looks different over time. Things change, things happen,” says Ansa Akyea, who will tackle the title role. “Many of us can relate to that. Pericles thinks on his feet and figures it out as he goes—and he pays attention to the women and the council he gets along the way.”

at Open Book