‘Pericles’ tackles challenges of the hero’s journey with humor and heart

Credit: Jeff Watkins

Credit: Jeff Watkins

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

The production of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” onstage at Shakespeare Tavern through April 1, is terrific, twisted fun.

First published in 1609, the work is a wild soap opera that also evokes the hero’s journeys in Homer’s The Odyssey. The more trouble our favorite characters face — be it from dangerous seas, assassins, incestuous kings, jealous queens or treacherous pirates — the more delicious the show becomes.

Like all good serials, “Pericles” spans generations, features dozens of characters and ventures perpetually into unexpected and bizarre avenues. Luckily, in this production, we have a balladeer named John Gower, played with skill and great humor by local storyteller and musician Andy Offutt Irwin, to help the audience sort through all of it.

Credit: Jeff Watkins

Credit: Jeff Watkins

At the outset, Prince Pericles ventures to Antioch to meet the king in hope of courting his beautiful daughter, yet the king makes him solve a riddle or face beheading. Pericles solves the riddle, unlocking a horrible family secret, and flees Antioch and Tyre in fear for his life.

Every time Pericles steps aboard a boat seeking safety, some new mishap occurs upon harsh seas. At every new kingdom, he faces a challenge. In one place, he is confronted by a starving people cursed by the gods with famine. In another, he falls in love with another princess, yet the romance is particularly rocky.

Eventually, his run of bad luck begins affecting the next generation, with his daughter Marina dealing with her own set of crazy troubles.

“Pericles” is not, on its surface, a comedy, yet director Jeff Watkins finds plenty of great moments for laughs and entertainment. And the cast shines at every opportunity. It’s truly an ensemble piece for the troupe since all the performers, even the leads, are given multiple roles to play.

The time jump even allows for the title role to be shared. Pericles the Younger is played by Daryel T. Monson with great charm and beauty. He’s a savvy hero easy to root for, as his adventures make up the play’s first half. Pericles the Older, weathered by tragedy and trauma, is played by a fantastic Charlie T. Thomas. Thomas’ emotional journey through the second half of the work is deeply moving, ending the play on a triumphant, tear-jerking note.

As Pericles’ daughter, Marina, Anna Holland also turns in an excellent performance. Her Marina is interesting, virtuous and savvy.

Credit: Jeff Watkins

Credit: Jeff Watkins

The play is a real challenge, but the team tackles the material with relish. The entire ensemble is terrific, with performers like O’Neal Delapenha, Kelly Clare Toland, Laura Cole and Mary Ruth Ralston finding ways to distinguish all of their different characters through performance, not just costumes.

Case in point, when one character is killed off in a moment of narration, it leads to one of the funniest stage moments in the show just because of a performer’s facial expression.

The production uses a variety of clever touches, as well, to highlight changes in setting. Every sea journey becomes a frantic diorama of moving waves. Kingdoms are distinguished through costuming and even bloodied prop heads. The cast, in charge of many aspects of set and music transitions, keeps the gleeful pace. There are laughs throughout the show, and it’s also heartwarming, surprising and filled with music.

“Pericles” is a very good time.


“Pericles, Prince of Tyre”

Through April 1. $15-$45. Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, 499 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-874-5299, shakespearetavern.com.


Benjamin Carr, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is an arts journalist and critic who has contributed to ArtsATL since 2019. His plays have been produced at The Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan, as part of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival, and the Center for Puppetry Arts. His novel Impacted was published by The Story Plant in 2021.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

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