Monday, January 10, 2011


Photos by the Black Rep Ka'ramuu Kush as the title character,"Pericles"

The Black Rep Takeths 'Pericles'

by Marcus Ma'at Atkins

William Shakespeare’s plays have always been the source of re-interpretation and examination. And The St. Louis Black Repertory’s adaptation of his lesser penned work, “Pericles” is no exception. Directed by STL director/actress Andrea Frye, her version of “Pericles” with a mostly African American "colorblind" cast which opens the Black Rep’s 35th Season and runs until Jan 30 at the Grandel Square Theatre, changes the settings of the places in the story with an African Diasporic spin--ancient Greece is now 19th century ancient West Africa (Pericles village Tyre is the Ashanti and the city of Antioch is now Mali) , Pentapolis is now Cuba; Ephesus to Haiti and Mitylene is New Orleans.

Although the settings have changes, the story of Pericles hasn’t changed . The same character devices in mostly all of Shakespeare’s plays: jealousy, death, revenge, betrayal and some type of sexual deviancy.

In the story, an eager prince turned king(played robustly by Karamuu Kush) who flees from west Africa to escape from getting killed by King Antioch (played by Rich Pisarkiewicz) after discovering the latter’s incestuous affair with his daughter (played by Sharisa Whatley) during his request to marry her.

Pericles and Thaisa, played by Patrese McCain, in the wedding scene as her father King Simonides, played by Rich Pisarkiewicz

After getting a message from his right hand man , Lord Helicanus (played by Chauncy Thomas) that Antioch sent a hitman to kill him Pericles set sails accidentally to Cuba when his vessel is shipwrecked there being the lone survivor. From his stay, he meets the princess of Cuba , Thaisa (played by Patrese McClain), at a suitors party(with a Heather Himes' choreographed couples dance scene that is dazzling)and wins her heart and her father King Simonides’ (played by Pisarkiewicz) good standing forcing him to marry her or die (a character trait of this play) after they discover the perceived derelict Pericles was an actual king.

Meanwhile King Antiochus and his daughter dies in war, and the people of
Mali demands for a new king, Lord Helicanus. But, he gave the people a trade off--if Pericles is not found at year’s end, then he would become king. But, through various messengers across the seas, Pericles eventually discovers the absence of power resulting in he and his now preggo wife to set forth back on the seas to Mali. But tragedy strikes twice when a midwife (played by Linda Kennedy) on ship gives Pericles the bad news that Thaisa died during childbirth (yielding a baby girl, named Marina from the seas) and her body placed in a wooden box and thrown overboard by the sailors as a charm to rid the bad storm that the ship is experiencing.

When Pericles returns to Mali, his dead wife’s casket is washed ashore on Haiti and discovered by servants of Lord Cerimon (also played by Kennedy), who opens and the lord “casting hoodoo” bringing her back to life magically. Because of her circumstances in her new land, and her finely jeweled person, the lord makes her a priestess in the island of Gullah.

Kush in a monologue.

Now in Mali, to clear his head from his wife’s death, Pericles’ plans have now changed to seeking power of the city to leaving his baby daughter in the care of the Governor of Mali, Cleon( played by Robert Mitchell) and his wife, Dionyza (played by Susie Wall in Joan Crawford style craziness) to sail the shores until he returns for her when she was of age to marry. Come to find out Dionyza is wicked and jealous of Marina who becomes more accomplished because of her prestige as a princess than their own daughter. Because of this,. she wants Marina dead.

So when Marina becomes an early teen (played impressively by Whatley), Dionyza orders one of her servants to take her away and kill her. The servant (played by Black Rep vet Eric Kilpatrick) villain would have done so, but he was interrupted by some pirates who comes by and carries Marina off to sea with them, and takes her to New Orleans where they sell her to a brothel as a sex slave.

A potential customer at the bordello, Governor Lysimachus(played by Theo Wilson), hooks up with Marina but does not have his way with her because he becomes so impressed by her story and her prestige that he ends up falling in love with her and seeks to marry her but is intimidated by her. Meanwhile, when Pericles returns to Mali to seek his daughter, he is told by Dionyza that she’s dead and takes him to her monument to her. The news causes him much grief, setting sail again and vowing never to clean or tidy himself and become a mute.

McCain and Pisarkiewicz in the suitors scene in Havana as the Gower the Narrator, played Robert Mitchell, and a supporting character looks on.

Happenstance, his vessel lands in New Orleans where Gov. Lysimachus meets the ship that Pericles is aboard and . asks him his planned journey. Because Pericles was mute, the governor gets an idea to have Marina try and get him to speak. She accepts the challenge by talking to him about her complicated upbringing and losing her parents. Her reveal triggers his loss of his wife and daughter. When she tells him she was captured by servants in Mali after Dionyza demanded her killed he discovers that she was his daughter and alive, thus a sweet reunion ensues (the best scene of the play, and is quite moving, by the way).

Soon, Pericles falls asleep and is awakened by a vision (or in Shakespeare talk—foreshadowing) of the sound of heavenly music played by the goddess Diana (played by Kennedy) , singing lyrics that reveled his wife was alive in Haiti. When he and Marina set sail to Haiti, he finds Thaisa and she is gleeful. All three are reunited. In the end, Pericles family sails back to New Orleans where Marina marries Lysimachus and live happily ever after.

Throughout “Pericles,” it is narrated by the Gower (played by Mitchell) who is dressed like a New Orleans zulu parade leader.

Lord Serimon of Haiti, played by Linda Kenendy(in purple) and her servants looking into the casket of Queen Thaisa

Overall,Frye’s “Pericles’ is an interesting take of the play rooting the settings in the Black Diaspora (especially the Cuban scenes with the music and cultural references). It is also impressive that the cast is able to distinguish a differentiation in their multi- characters many who played three roles (Kennedy played five) with exception of Kush who remained Pericles (who ironically would have been out of place trying to play another role). Also, new to the sage (and the Black Rep at that matter) is a large and wide projected screen used as a prop that shows various ancient ruins, Cuban nightlife, desolation and water waves which added to the Grecian staging.

A drawback however, is the characters speaking in Shakespearean language (which is also difficult to interpret without the text in your face) and never encompassing any of the language or dialect of the lands of the settings (e.g. African, patios, French). Besides the Cuban scene with the fisherman speaking in dialect, it felt a bit parodied. Also, the “Shakeperanese” is occasionally interrupted by anachronistic slang. Case in point, when Kennedy’s bordello character in the 19th century New Orleans says to Marina ”You goeth girl” (playing up the 1990s phrase “You go, girl”) with some sassy finger snaps as a response to her new experience in the bordello, didn’t seem to fit well with the flow of the language setting.

But beside its flaws (pun intended), “Pericles” is a provocative story with lots of twists and turns and ending with a common tale of ode: love can be lost and found.


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