Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Ten Thousand Things Theater Company
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Kit's recent review of Stomp and Arty's recent reviews of Cabaret, Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story, The Kalevala, and Jitney

Ansa Akyea
Photo by Paula Keller
Ten Thousand Things Theater Company made the decision to launch their 2016-2017 season with William Shakespeare's Pericles before it was announced that Joseph Haj, the Guthrie Theatre's newly installed Artistic Director, would make his production of that same Pericles staged at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, the first show he would direct at the Guthrie. His was a lavish production, staged on the Guthrie's capacious Wurtele Thrust Stage, and opened in January 2016. It put on display Haj's use of dramatic stage effects, scenic and aural imagery, and working well with a large and talented ensemble. The staging made a terrific impression, even if its tone was inconsistent and it didn't do much to fortify the weak reputation of Shakespeare's meandering hero's journey.

Anyone who knows Ten Thousand Things' work knows that, even with the same plot, theirs would be a very different production. This remarkable company always performs with bare bones (though remarkably witty) sets, costumes that look makeshift until you realize how clever they are, and with the lights all on. The last point is due to their performances in the cafeterias or gyms of homeless shelters, community centers, prisons, adult basic education programs, and other sites where people who ordinarily have no access to live theater (in many cases, in their entire life) have the opportunity to see a professionally staged live play. Scripts of longer works are usually edited to stay within a two hour running time, which allows the company to cut to the bone of plot and characterizations. Their Pericles, then, makes Shakespeare's circuitous plot more concise, and therefore, more coherent, and provides guideposts to keep track of the numerous settings and characters. They also have given this rendition of the play a specific point of view, that being the failure of a male hero to consider the needs of the women in his life.

Pericles is the Prince of Tyre. As the play opens, he has landed in Antioch, where sinister King Antiochus has devised a riddle to keep suitors from winning the hand of the daughter, death being the penalty for those who attempt but fail to find the solution. Pericles resolves the riddle, but in so doing realizes he has uncovered a horrible truth about Antiochus, one which Antiochus will never let him live to tell. Feeling trapped Pericles takes to the sea lest Antiochus track him down in Tyre. His travels lead him to Tarsus, where his gift of food provisions saves the kingdom from a famine; and to Pentapolis where he woos and marries Good King Simonedes' lovely daughter, Thaisa.

When Pericles is called back to Tyre, Thaisa, now pregnant, joins him on the voyage. She dies in childbirth, leaving Pericles racked with grief and feeling unable to care for their infant daughter. He returns to Tarsus where he leaves the child, named Marina, in the care of King Creon and Queen Dionyza, trusting that, in their gratitude for what he did for them, they will love and nurture Marina as their own. The plot extends from here over sixteen years and includes a mystical healer, a murderous henchman, pirates, a pimp and a madame, and no less than the Goddess Diana herself.

For that last personage (or should I say "deity"?), Ten Thousand Things director Michelle Hensley had Kira Obolensky, the company's playwright in residence, write a new speech to close the play in which, rather than congratulating Pericles on reuniting with the strands of his life, Diana berates him for failure to act with valor on behalf of Antiochus' daughter, his wife Thaisa, or his own daughter Marina. This puts a feminist spin on the play not previously present, and pricks a hole in the puffed up balloon of male heroic figures. Obolensky's writing along with the marvelous Karen Wiese-Thompson as Diana do this in no uncertain terms, yet also with a tone of good humor and grace, as our narrator closes with "He begins to see the world anew."

Wiese-Thompson also plays the role of Gower, narrator of the epic. She opens the play with an incantation from Diana, and narrates throughout, carrying a wooden ship perched atop a rod across the stage to mark Pericles' journey, dipping and turning about to indicate storms at sea. Her chalk-squeak voice and dominating presence provide a narration that combines authority with mirth. Ansa Akyea portrays Pericles and imbues him with a good heart, albeit clueless in distinguishing duty from virtue. When Diana rebukes this Pericles, we can believe he is a decent man who will strive to change, rather than an intransigent male chauvinist.

The rest of the troupe, all cast in multiple parts, are quite splendid. Pearce Bunting does a neat 180-degree pivot from the evil King Antiochus to the good King Cleon, as well as an appropriately campy Bawd, the madame, in drag. Maggie Chestovich, with no words, expresses the suffering of Antiuchus' daughter, draws an evil streak that sizzles out of Queen Dionyza, and is a hoot as one of three knights competing for the hand of Thaisa. Tatania Williams limes a winning portrait of Marina that shows her spunk, wit and virtue. JuCoby Johnson, Audrey Park and James Rodriguez all do fine work as well.

Trevor Bowen has designed delightful costumes, using different color groups to help sort out denizens of the various island kingdom settings. Made of boldly patterned fabrics of differing texture, at first glance the costumes look like rummaged goods until a closer look reveals how clever and unique to each character they are. As is their norm, there is little scenery in a Ten Thousand Things production, though actual signposts are used to identify each scene's settings. The contributions made by Ten Thousand Things' genius of music and sound, Peter Vitale, cannot be overestimated. Vitale uses cymbals, tympani, strings of shells, and outer sound makers to transform the starkly lit, unadorned space into an array of distant worlds.

I admit to worrying that seeing two Pericles in less than twelve months would be one Pericles too many, but I worried for naught. Much as I enjoyed the Joseph Haj staging at the Guthrie, and the signs of things to look forward to under his artistic leadership, I felt an entirely different type of appreciation for Michelle Hensley's staging, actually taking more pleasure in the tale itself and in finding an unexpected human-ness within its episodic demeanor. I am grateful to have seen both.

Periclesplays through October 23 and November 3 - 6, 2016, at The Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN and October 27 - 30, 2016, at the Guthrie Dowling Studio, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $30.00, Pay what you can, $10.00 and up, for those under 30. Free tickets for all Community Performances are sold out. For tickets call 612-203-9502 or go to

Writer: William Shakespeare; Director and Adaptor: Michelle Hensley; Music and Sound Director: Peter Vitale; Costumes: Trevor Bowen Sets: Irve Dell; Production Manager: Nancy Waldoch; Assistant Director: Max Wojtanowicz; Production Intern: Laini Devine.

Cast: Ansa Akyea (Pericles), Pearce Bunting (Antiochus, Simonides, a sailor, Leonine, Bawd). Maggie Chestovich (Daughter of Antiochus, Dionyza, a fisherwoman, a knight) JuCoby Johnson (Helicanus, a knight, Pander), Audrey Park (a fisherwoman, Thaisa, Philoten, a pirate), James Rodriguez (Thaliard, Cleon, a knight, Lysimachus) Karen Wiese-Thompson (Gower the Storyteller, Lychorida, Cerimon, the Goddess Diana), Tatania Williams (a fisherwoman, a lady, Marina).

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