note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark
Scenic Design by Christina Todesco
Lighting Design by Christopher Ostrom
Costume Design by Frances Nelson McSherry
Sound Design by Rick Lombardo
Properties Design by Matthew CW Page
Fight Choreographer Ted Hewlett
Production Stage Manager Carola Morrone
Eadric...Christopher Michael Brody
Ethelred..........Lewis D. Wheeler
Moira Buffini's big, sprawling play fills the huge cavern of The New Rep's Arsenal Center stage like a hilarious explosion in a history textbook. Everyone here changes --- some of them often. And it would be hard to summarize plot or characters without destroying necessary surprises. The play is set in "Dark Age England" and King Ethelred The Unready, who spends the whole first act "ruling" while never leaving his bed, is a major character. But though most of these characters and events are invented, it's entirely possible that the most outrageously laughable aspects of Buffini's romp are historically accurate.
With such a quicksilver show where surprises tumble along as from a cornucopia it's hard to decide what a review ought to tell you, save that Director Rick Lombardo has found a blockbuster playwright and given her words to a cast eager to embody her bubbly, irreverent ideas. Okay, at the opening of act one (There should be an act-break between act one and two; that's a criticism, but were there one you wouldn't get home till after midnight), Marianna Bassham (Ymma) is found barfing into a pit. Whether it's still seasickness from her trip from France, or disgust with English food, or whether she really cannot stomach the English king is debatable. Ethelred (a grinning, capricious Lewis D. Wheeler) sentences her to marriage with the 14-year-old heir of the throne of Cumbria (Silence: Emily Sproch) in the north. Silence is a half-breed --- half English, half Viking, with a tendency to pray to Odin in moments of stress rather than follow the instruction of Roger (Michael Kaye), a priest. (Late in the play Roger and Ymmma's servant Agnes [played by Anne Gottlieb, one of my all-time favorite Boston actresses] bond because, both orphans, they were each sold at age ten, her into slavery, he into a monastery; the poor, they agree, are never in control of their own lives.) Roger performs the marriage, which isn't quite consummated --- but I won't tell you why!
Ethelred sends these four off to Cumbria in a wagon --- that's act two --- under the protection of Eadric Long-Staff, a brooding brute of a dark-ages warrior. Christopher Michael Brophy, in beard and hair and the bear-skins of Costumer Frances Nelson McSherry, carrying the round shield and brandishing the broadsword and skinning-knife of Props-Master Matthew CW Page looks like Conan The Barbarian (Not that musclebound wimpy one from the movies; the real one from the old black-and-white comic-books) or someone stepped from illustrations of Robin Hood. He is not a barbarian but a soldier, but develops a delusion that he can communicate with people, silently, with his mind.
Throughout act two, the five travellers often speak their ideas and thoughts directly to the audience with no one crowded next to them hearing --- so maybe Eadric is right after all? The broken brown and grey landscape created by Christina Todesco has a surreal feel, with a huge square slab of stone above that descends at one point to offer the travellers shelter in a spooky old Celtic burial barrow. There's a round hole in it through which rain, and later snow pours, and down stage-left is an open sewer, up right a ship-shaped rock upon which dark-age he-men can posture before Christopher Ostrom's eloquently lit sky.
By the end of act two Ethelred is no longer unready and (in McSherry's glorious robes and
chain-mail and several of Page's crowns) he leads unseen armies against the Vikings that
have been raping and pillaging his country for five hundred draining years. (They'be been
settling and ruling parts of it too. Silence is half-viking, remember?) His grin becomes
fearsome when he finds that killing a man makes him empathize with the power of God ---
and Silence's beloved homeland is by the end of their journey a wasteland. Act three is full
of angers, executions, murders, miraculous resurrection and disappointment, but all the
shifting emotional entanglements resolve themselves by play's end. And though Ethelred the
tyrant is doomed to die soon (and a viking ascend the throne of England, at least for a while),
at least some of these astonishing people manage to live happily ever after --- or at least as
happily as possible, in Dark Age England.
But don't take my word for it. Go see for yourselves!
At the very least, go and see all the hilarious details I've left out!
( a k a larry stark )