(Review by Tulis McCall)
After a string of plays that made me want to stick my head in the freezer, I finally found something that kept me awake. And that’s not all, folks. It made me think and it made me laugh out loud.
And yes indeed, it is, just too damn long!
But, aside from that this is some great stuff. Seriously, when have you ever heard two knights discussing the existential elements of the Hundred Years War with a clarity and sincerity that is not Monty Python. Lonergan has certainly taken a page out of their notebook, but his writing is distinctly all his own.
The tale begins with Knights Ralph (Josh Hamilton) and Alfred (Tate Donovan) in a moment of repose, after the recent pillaring and plundering of a nearby village, where they let their thoughts meander about on the meaning of it all. What will come next after this Hundred Years War, and how long will the war last, anyway? When will the Pope move back to Italy from Avignon and what about that Middle Class that is threatening to burst on to the scene and destroy feudalism??? And is it only war that gives these Knights a job? Hmnnn! Lonergan manages to make these questions into conversation so gracefully that you dare not laugh because you want to hear what these two wise guys are saying.
Soon they are joined by Sirs Lioknel (C. J. Wilson) and Simon (Kevin Geer). And before they can get into an argument about the benefits or lack there of regarding invading with malice a nearby convent they are visited by Cardinal Robert of Geneva (John Pankow) who enlists them into the service of the Pope. This seems like a pretty good deal (1 piece of gold per month for each man), and soon the four are off to seek confirmation and official advance absolution of any upcoming sins they may be required to commit.
Off we go down the Yellow Brick Road of 14th century France. We meet more clergy of high rank, a few noble people, some peasants, Catherine of Siena, the return of the Pope Gregory XI to Italy and witness his demise, which brought on the era of the papal feud (Pope Clement VII vs. Pope Urban VI – amazing how these guys can’t come up with new names isn’t it?) which brings the evening to a close. One gets the feeling that the end of the show was almost arbitrary, and that Lonergan could easily have carried on for another hundred or so years.
This is a cast free of the slightest impediment. With the exception of Donovan and Hamilton, each of these actors plays several parts that include costume and hair changes so intricate you could swear they have cloned themselves. I have never seen Pankow and Geer funnier. Anthony Arkin, Heather Burns and Halley Feiffer were welcomed news on all fronts. These folk work their butts off, and it is because of them that the evening swings instead of staggers.
Lonergan directs with clarity and the sets by Walt Apagler, using the biggest enlargements of Medieval manuscript illuminations to be seen anywhere on the planet, set the off kilter tone of this play perfectly. Lighting and costumes by Lyons and Krass round out the technical aspects perfectly. Saints and sinners are accommodated to perfection.
Really, the only flaw in the ointment is the length. I wonder if Lonergan trusts his own writing. He doesn’t seem to understand that when he makes a point the first time it is always a direct hit, and it does not bear repeating more than twice. This text could easily lose 3o minutes and none of us would be the worse for wear. As a matter of fact, our butts would thank us.
In the mean time, congratulations to this cast for mining the hell out of this fine but over written Medieval Play and catapulting this directly into this century with some serious panache.
This is a fabulous evening!
"Bloated, gaseous, archly self-conscious and on occasion truly funny."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"A messy, sprawling and goofy slice of history."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"An overlong, self-consciously clever show where strained jokes are run into the ground."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Windy, snarky, obvious, and repetitive, the show blunders on under Lonergan’s indulgent direction for a mind-boggling two hours and 45 minutes."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"There are laughs in "Medieval Play," but, over time, they get stretched rather thin."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"A potentially smart 90-minute comedy desperately trapped within a two hour and 45 minute-long fat suit of self-indulgent playwriting."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
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