Kenneth Lonergan's odd, flawed but highly enjoyable MEDIEVAL PLAY raised some questions. 1. Should a playwright direct his own play? In doing so, he loses an important editor and critic. 2. Can one judge a production from a preview? As enjoyable as we found MEDIEVAL PLAY, particularly at the Signature Theatre bargain price of $25, we could tell that the play desperately needs editing. It could benefit from losing half and hour. Right now, the second act loses focus. Actually, it would be better as a tight 105 minute one-act rather than a 2 1/2 hour play that lacks some sense of forward momentum. Moreover, at least one of the leading performers was getting tongue tied on her many expository speeches. 3. Is our aesthetic judgment partly dependent on price and circumstances. At the Signature's ticket price of $25, I am more indulgent than I would be if I paid Broadway prices, particularly at a wonderful place like the Signature. Even at this price, I must acknowledge that a lot of people left at they intermission. Clearly they were not as amused as we were.
MEDIEVAL PLAY (with an emphasis on PLAY) is the tale of two knights during the Hundred Years War. These guys are like Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon caught in the Middle Ages. One, Sir Ralph (Josh Hamilton), wants to become virtuous and serve Jesus, but he can't avoid getting trapped in situations that require him to slaughter people. His buddy (Tate Donovan) is less reflective, but will follow his friend almost anywhere. In one sense, this is a medieval bromance. Lonergan has done his research about the various Papal feuds and intrigues during the time period the play covers. However, he wants to play with the conventions of an historical play. In the long first scene between the two friends, they lament being caught in the Hundred Years War. The scene plays with the anachronisms that are always part of historical drama. The men talk about the fourteenth century as if they are experiencing it with the
minset of our own time. Clearly this is a playful version of the fourteenth century very much from the point of view of the twenty-first century. There is no medieval romance here, no chivalry. The knights are basically bandits and thugs, the clergy either libidinous brutes or fanatics. There's a lot of funny stuff here, but a lack of structure. When Lonergan tries to tie up the loose ends of his history in Act 2, the focus moves from his two central characters.
This is quite a lavish production with lots of lovely, colorful if purposely cartoonish scenery. Lonergan has directed his play well, but like many writers staging their own work, he would have been better served by working on the script and letting someone else helm the production. The cast is uniformly good. Hamilton and Donovan are a good comedy team, ably supported by a solid ensemble playing multiple roles. I hope that between now and the June 7 opening night, Lonergan does the necessary pruning and tightening. As it is, MEDIEVAL PLAY is an witty, enjoyable diversion. There are no deep insights here, but lots of laughs.
MEDIEVAL PLAY. Signature Theatre, May 27, 2012