Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Valhallah"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark


by Paul Rudnick
Directed by David J. Miller & Rick Park

Scenic Design by David J. Miller
Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg
Costume Design by Seth Bodie
Sound Design by Walter Eduardo
Wig Design by Rachel Padula
Assistant Stage Manager Cassandra Fox
Production Manager John Tibbetts
Stage Manager Deirdre Benson

James Avery

King Ludwig of Bavaria

Margaret Mortimer, Queen Marie, Princess Mary, Princess Enid, Natalie Kippelbaum

Henry Lee Stafford, Helmut, Opera Singer

Sally Mortimer, Princess Sophie, Princess Patricia, Marie Antoinette, Annie Avery

Footman, Otto, Pfeiffer, Princess Ursula The Unusual, Reverend Howesberry. Sergeant

So far, at least three people with glowing eyes have asked "Have you seen 'Valhallah' yet?" Now three different critics have alluded to their usually-positive-but-nuanced opinions of the show.

I have no such reservations whatever. I loved every precious, outrageous, magnificently detailed second of it, and I have been telling Everyone I talk to that they Must See This Show. (Of course, when the word-of-mouth circuilates, that may already be impossible. The best you can hope for is that they can extend the run past 3 May, and you can be first in line for tickets.)

Paul Rudnick's script calls for baldly direct language and mime about sex, homosexuality, and masturbation, so if that could offend you Don't Go; otherwise, even these details are handled with such enthusiastic bravado by a blindingly brilliant cast that laughter rather than shock is the true response, and shock is not the intent of the show.

"Valhallah" is about a single-minded, obsessive dedication to pure Beauty in whatever forms it manifests itself. It burns as a gem-like flame in the souls of an irreverent, bi-sexual pansy-boy in Texas as well as in Ludwig, the "Mad King" of Bavaria --- their stories intertwining, and World War II bringing them, spiritually at least, together in one of the King's many rococo building projects. Along the way, Rudnick unleashes an unending spray of jokes and wit that pepper an astonishingly over-the-top yet probably historically accurate biography of the king who built the Buyreuth Wagnerian theatre, married a hunch-back, and out-Disneyed DisneyLand with his famous, unbelievably beautiful castle.

I have been fascinated by what stage can do, and often do better, than film can; here the cutting from Texas to Bavaria, from 1945 to the 1700's, is beautifully smooth, since one world comments on the other. Upon occasion the King, bored by affairs of state, floats into fantasies, and again the play does, live, what only cinematic cross-fades are thought to accomplish. In some later scenes, actors merely Describe the architectural miracles they are have stumbled upon and the audience is swept into seeing them, just as, when they speak of horses, you Will See Them, printing their hooves into the receiving earth.

Directors David J. Miller and Rick Park, despite Miller's sets, Jeff Adelberg's excellent light-plot, Walter Eduardo's choice of Wagner on sound, and Seth Bode's opulent costumes, couldn't make this miracle without the cast to die for. John Ferriera, in jeans/tee/and leathers looks (and acts) as though he could grow up to be James Dean. In the looking-glass world, Brian Quint's at-the-brink-of-the-top physical enjoyment of his coronation-cape, to select only one beautifully bewigged scene (Thank you Rachel Padula), invokes a commitment to lushly lovely reality that any audience can empathize with.

And everyone else plays, literally, Everyone Else. The costume-changes are lightning-fast, the faces and stances and body-languages switch knife-clean, and every one of the fifteen "supporting" roles, from major characters (Maureen Adduci's Queen Marie, Elisa MacDonald's Sally, Rick Park's Footman, Christopher Michael Brophy's Henry Lee) to their many one-line dash-on roles are full-bodied individuals ... and every one of them know how to put whipcrack timing and delivery into every fast-paced quip. ("Hump-back joke"! ! ! !)

I will read the critiques of my confreres with an eye to their no doubt instructive shavings with critical razors, but nothing they can say would ever convince me that "Valhallah" is such a hoot --- and has, in its last few moments, a heart-rendingly realistic denouement --- that people will forever kick themselves if they manage not to experience it.
Go. See for yourselves!

( a k a larry stark)

"Valhallah" (13 April - 3 May)
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA
1 (617) 482-3279

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide