January 30, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
As I took my seat on press night I overheard that The Ballad of the Red Knight producers had recommended parents bring along their children. It explained why all four little ones behind me were chattering like monkeys and wriggling in their seats before the first line was uttered. “I don’t want to be here,” one of them said. “You’re gonna love it,” a patient parent assured. And from the moment the knights-in-tights burst out onto the stage they all fell as silent as tiny mice, except of course for the communal roars of laughter.
It seemed writer Scott Courlander had gotten exactly the reaction he’d expected. His “Director’s Note” urges the audience to, “Think of this as a Saturday morning cartoon come to life….as in Rin Tin Tin, The Lone Ranger…or Ninja Turtles.”. Though I can’t for the life of me explain his reference to the famed German Shepherd, we were certainly a rapt audience for Courlander’s crazy fable that seems more like Monty Python and the Holy Grail meets The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’s “Fractured Fairy Tales” than canine TV.
If you’ve a predilection for wizards and heroes, sword fights and a princess who happens to be a bat, you’re going to love this, but first you’ll need to disabuse yourself of any Arthurian preconceptions. In a tale that caters to the funny bone – where knights sport Lurex and carry logoed lunchboxes, the Red Knight (Christopher Herring) is the hero crusader. His mode of conquering his kingdom’s foes is to shower them with absurd compliments until they surrender to his charms. He and his brother Prince Richard (Kyle McGruther) must seek revenge on Lord Fango (Charles Boyington) and his vampire Bat People for the murder of their father, King Marthur. But the nefarious Lord Fango has dire plans of his own and captures the bumbling Prince Richard, tossing him into the dungeon and forcing the Red Knight to go on a quest with the aid of The Gloom Mage (John Stange) an untrustworthy sorcerer while Fango tries to marry off his pretty but blood-sucking daughter Fanglett (Katie Zitz) to the Red Knight in order to produce an heir. Got it? Bring on the Fertility Mages!
Three hapless Bat Guards in thrall to Fango and a trio of colorful knights – Yellow, Green and Blue – faithful to the brothers, keep the swords clacking throughout. Boyington plays Fango to the hilt with a performance, and a physical appearance, reminiscent of Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil and Flash Gordon’s Ming the Merciless. Fanglett, the only female in the production, sums it up nicely. “It was suggested that the playwright struggled with writing fully developed female characters.”
The madcap adventure features a Narrator, an adorably silly court jester, played captivatingly by Stephen Mead, who in Richard’s words, “does this stupid bit where he says what everyone is doing”. This device is of particular assistance to the audience in order to keep the mayhem sorted out for those of us who are reeling from the sorcery, wizardry, teleportation and passel of knights in this over-the-top comedy top-loaded with a constant stream of puns (“good cop, bat cop”) and double entendres.
I’d advise suspending logic – a suggestion that comes too late for one of the tykes behind me who remarked, “But, Daddy, you can’t turn a man into a bowl!”
Fun for children and grownups who still are.
At Port City Playhouse at The Lab at Convergence, 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302. Remaining performances are on the following dates – February 1, 7, 8, at 8:00 p.m. Matinees on February 1 & 8 at 2pm. For tickets and information visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.