Port City Playhouse The Ballad of the Red KnightBy David Siegel • Jan 27th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Port City Playhouse: (Info) (Web)
Convergence, A Creative Community, Alexandria, VA
Through February 8th
2:15 with intermission
$18/$16 Seniors, Military, Students/$9 Children
Reviewed January 25th, 2013
With a fresh new partnership between Alexandria’s Port City Playhouse and Red Knight Productions, the spirit of Washington’s Fringe Festival has crossed the Potomac and come to Suburbia. Northern Virginia theater goers should be welcoming. Why should DC venues have all the special delight of a Fringe sketch comedy performing arts attitude? After all, isn’t Fringe not of a particular geographic place but of a youthful chutzpah, imagination and soul?
The production is The Ballad of the Red Knight written and directed by Scott Courlander. He has studied and performed at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. His instincts for “let’s try this” improvisation and sketch comedy are unmistakable.
Red Knight Productions describes the work as the stand-alone, back story prequel to its 2012 Capital Fringe Festival comedy, Medieval Story Land.
The Ballad of the Red Knight is a campy parody set in a King Arthur-like fantasy land with hints of Don Quixote and other heroic quests mashed in. Cultural references might also include Monty Python, Saturday Night Live, and, of course, the oft parodied “Star Wars.”
The plot surround the trials and tribulations of a smooth talking, always negotiating, man of words and not weapons, action-averse Red Knight (played with wide-eyes and unflappable manner by Christopher Herring). He faces any number of adventures trying to avenge the death of his father at the hands of a vampire-bat named Lord Fango (Charles Boyinton in an arch, self-admiring dandy manner). Along the way the Red Knight becomes estranged from his action oriented, hot-headed brother Prince Richard (Kyle McGruther). He also marries and falls in love with (and in that order) the quite lovable bat-girl daughter Lord Fango with the adorable name of Fanglett and often called Bat Girl (played adorably sweet by Katie Zitz). There is also a Shakespearean-like character called The Narrator (Stephen Mead playing a character meant to be grating and was in very bold type) who helps interpret the journey for the audience and for the on-stage characters as well.
Two other actors earn special mention. There is John Strange as “The Gloom Mage” who wrote in the program notes that he “enjoys these little trips inside the mind of a third-grader” and Edward Nagel as The Yellow Knight who combines a self-effacing manner with a fey character.
The show has its share of sword-play and silliness accompanied by musical compositions by William Yanesh. Yanesh has also worked with Arlington’s Signature Theatre and Montgomery County’s Adventure Theatre. His compositions set the mood to the proceedings from the moment the audience steps into the theater. At the performance your reviewer attended Jonathan Tippens was the talented keyboardist. He played the score with notable skill, like an old-fashioned pianist accompanying a silent film, bringing dramatic temperaments to each scene.
With all its good intentions and well accomplished technical aspects including delightful costumes designed by Britanny Graham including knights, wizards, vampire bats to a personal favorite some off-the-wall poisonous slugs, The Ballad of the Red Knight does stumble a bit. With its two act and two plus hours, the production would benefit from what William Faulkner wrote; that “in writing you must kill your darlings.” Darlings are the words one writes. The show feels stretched well beyond its bounds. There are so many ideas crammed into the production that don’t add a great deal to the dramatic arc or journey.
Other time it felt as if it was easy to get into a particular scene, but difficult to get out of it. An example were two separate scenes at a dining table with the Red Knight, Fanglett and Lord Fango eating and sharing their days together.
But there still was plenty of action and lines to bring knowing audience smiles. These included a character referred to as “an empty fruit bowl that used to be a man” or with only one female in the production Fanglett saying to no one in particular but to everyone “maybe the playwright doesn’t know how to write strong female roles.” And a line that Fanglett delivered brought appreciating good-natured groans from audience, “oh we are play good cop, bat-cop!”
Overall, The Ballad of the Red Knight is one for those who don’t take things too seriously in their appreciation of fantasy adventures and enjoy youthful insouciance. As Red Knight Production (RKP) noted in its marketing; RKP “believes that theatre should be fun in both process and performance.” RKP wants to produce theater that is “of the highest quality and entertainment value by telling grand and imaginative stories that leave audiences saying, ‘That was off-the-hook!'”
And the price is right. Ticket prices start at $9.
If the ideas and forces behind the co-production of The Ballad of the Red Knight by Port City Playhouse and Red Knight Productions are the first of other Fringe-like incubator performing arts projects, then “play on,” please.
Photos by Aaron Skolnik and Eric Zitz
- Lord Fango: Charles Boyinton
- The Red Knight: Christopher Herring
- Bat Guard 2: Brendan Edward Kennedy
- Bat Guard 1: Carl Brandt Long
- Richard: Kyle McGruther
- The Narrator: Stephen Mead
- The Yellow Knight: Edward C. Nagel
- Tiny Tim: Anders Ogelman
- The Blue Knight: Bob Sheire
- The Green Knight: Matt Sparacino
- The Gloom Mage: John Strange.
- King Marthur/Fire Servant/Priest/Bat Guard 3: Matthew Strote
- Fanglett: Katie Zitz
- Written & Directed by: Scott Courlander
- Composer: William Yanesh
- Costume Designer: Brittany Graham
- Fight Director: Casey Kaleba
- Sound Designer/Stage Manager: Aaron Fensterheim
- Lighting Designer: Paul Callahan
- Pianists: Arielle Bayer, Jonathan Tippens
- Scenic Artist: Fallon Schultz Hitchens
Disclaimer: Port City Playhouse provided a complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10087.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.