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 Ka’ramuu 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
Meanwhile King Antiochus and his daughter dies in war, and the people of
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
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
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
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
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
Throughout “Pericles,” it is narrated by the Gower (played by Mitchell) who is dressed like a
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.