Monday, June 6, 2016

The Knight of the Burning Pestle - Theatre Pro Rata at Dreamland Arts

The Knight of the Burning Pestle - sounds crazy, no? To be honest, it was a bit crazy, and clever, and funny - oh so funny. Written by Francis Beaumont in 1607, yes, you read that correctly - 1607, this play is known to be one of the first English Parody's - mainly making fun of Elizabethan theater. According to the vast knowledge on the interwebs (and yes, I am talking about wikipedia), the play satirizes chivalric romances, and parodies two other plays from that period: The Four Prentices of London (written by Thomas Heywood in 1592) and The Shoemaker's Holiday (written by Thomas Dekker in 1599).
Rachel Flynn, George Dornbach, Ben Tallen.
Photo by Charles Gorrill

I was a bit concerned thinking that the language and story would be hard to follow. After all, Shakespeare can be tough with some of his language play so I imagined that a parody of Shakespeare could be more tough. Wow - I was so wrong. The show starts with the cast of 'The London Merchant" coming on stage, walking around, warming up, making sure everything is in place. This takes place as the audience is coming in as well...or as most of the audience is seated. David Schlosser, Grant Henderson, Julie Ann Nevill, Andrew Troth, and Becca Hart take this time to do what they need to while in full view of the audience. Becca Hart (playing the Musician and Apprentice - but NOT a boy) really makes the most of it. She is on the floor picking up bits of dust, cleaning the legs of chairs, etc. It seems that they are all waiting for all the audience to get seated. When this happens, Becca blows a horn and the Prologue which point three more characters enter. George (a citizen played by Ben Tallen), Neil (his wife played by Rachel Flynn), and Rafe (their apprentice played by George Dornbach) all enter late and disrupt the prologue. George pulls out a bag of money, tells Prologue (David Schlosser) that he wants his apprentice Rafe to be on stage in a heroic role, gives him money and tells him to make it happen.

The remainder of the show is a very funny clash of needs. The cast of "The London Merchant" just want to perform the play they have been asked to perform and be done with it. Yet at every step, every scene - George and his wife either interrupt, or make demands to see Rafe do a certain bit. This combustion of desires plays out so well on the stage of Dreamland Arts. The casting is perfect, as is the direction. Every humorous moment is played seriously (which makes it more funny), and yet never milked for laughs. The frustration of the "London Merchant" cast slowly becomes more evident as George and Neil keep making demands and portraying truly bad audience behavior (but nothing you haven't seen in the current theater scene). Though the show was written in 1607, there is still plenty for a current audience to get out of seeing it. Theater and art have truly not changed as much as we may think it has - often time art is at the beck and call of those who fund it.

Ben Tallen and Rachel Flynn as George and Neil are fantastic. George Dornbach as Rafe...well, perfect...boyish and charming, has great skill with vocabulary, and really knows how to work his hair. The cast of "The London Merchant" is also...perfection. David Schlosser in all three roles (Prologue, Venturewell, and Michael) is great. His playing Michael is note-perfect, and a bit Oedipal. The chemistry that he and Grant Henderson (as the dashing and handsome Jasper) have shows that this acting troupe performing "The London Merchant" have been working together for a while. There is love there but also a bit of friction that is played so well. Julie Ann Nevill (as Lucy and Mistress Merrythought) is everything you could want for this role. Playing each character so differently, yet maintaining the classic Elizabethan acting style (as did the rest of the "LM" cast), and giving such great reaction faces...and singing! I have seen Julie Ann in a few things but was not aware of her charming singing voice. And speaking of singing - Andrew Troth (plays Humphrey and Master Merrythought) is also very funny. All of Master Merrythought's lines are sung and Andrew makes the most of them - playing to the audience of George and Neil, taking their demands in good. Finally Becca Hart is incredible. She plays the Apprentice so downtrodden - looking down, cowering almost, knees turned in; and yet the minute the Apprentice steps on stage in a character part - she is a different person. And such skill playing a variety of small instruments. So many moments that she made me laugh just by a small gesture, or look.

Honestly, a very funny, timely and smart comedy. This is one you may not ever see again so take the chance now. It plays at Dreamland Arts through June 19th. It is a small house so get your tickets early. And if that doesn't convince you - 90 min, no intermission. Our favorite.