Playwright: Andrew Park and Scott C. Lamps
At: Quest Theatre Ensemble at Blue Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory
Phone: 312-458-0895; Free,
but reservations requested
Runs through: Aug. 19
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
With The People's Sword in the Stone, Quest Theatre Ensemble once again has concocted a colorful show that blends masks, puppets and costumes together to wow audiences. Now if only Quest could get a handle on the storytelling.
In adapting the legends of King Arthur, playwright Andrew Park expressively says he sought to go his own way by not relying too heavily on existing versions. Problem is that Park spends more time on peripheral characters instead of Arthur as a young boy.
Sure, it's interesting to learn of the maudlin birth story of wizard Merlin and of Arthur's weird royal parentage ( the outcome of a deceptive adulterous affair ) . But in the exchange, we get very little of Arthur's humbling childhood as a servant and his magical experiences with Merlin that help prepare him for the future monarchy once he pulls that magical sword from a stone.
It's a pity since Scott J. Sumerak's Arthur is such an engaging and charismatic presence in the show. More of Arthur and less of Vincent L. Lonegran's slightly lethargic Merlin would have been appreciated.
Composer Scott. C. Lamp's songs are certainly pleasant and enjoyable, particularly Piper Sagan's Butterfly, who sings Follow Me to lead Arthur toward his destiny. Yet other song assignments suffer from the weak plotting framework, often with minor characters ending up with disproportionate song time compared to the main performers. ( Katie Canavan's noblewoman Igraine gets two whole songs though she plays a very passive role. ) .
Without a strong focus on Arthur, Sword in the Stone has a meandering quality to its storytelling that doesn't live up to the inventive stage pictures. The trademark lumpy and contorted designs of puppet maker /performer Jason Bowen and designer Nick Rupard are great, as are the medieval costumes of Jessica Pribble and Tiffany B. Sarver. Buck Blue's lighting design also creates an atmosphere befitting of a fairytale.
With so many design elements wonderfully in place, it feels like a lost opportunity that the authors declined to borrow from Disney's 1963 film, where Merlin teaches Arthur lessons in the form of animals. Quest does provide a great red dragon puppet plus some silly horses horsing around, but you do want more.
Yet I must commend Quest for once again offering all of these great visuals without officially charging an entrance fee. Quest's credo to keep the company and its brand of wonderment open to all is certainly something to admire and appreciate.