The Tragedy of King Arthur

  • Theater
  • Drama
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Photograph: Jacob J Goldberg
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Photograph: Jacob J Goldberg
The Tragedy of King Arthur

Theater review by Helen Shaw. TBG Theatre (see the Off-Off List). By Arthur Phillips. Dir. Jordan Reeves. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 50mins. One intermission.

Somewhere during Arthur Phillips’s interminable The Tragedy of King Arthur I abandoned hope. I had entered bright-eyed and young-at-heart, since novelist Phillips has long been a favorite of mine. Why shouldn’t the author of Prague and The Egyptologist turn to drama? His playful, postmodern work already leaps across genres, so I never heard the dread tolling of the phrase first-time playwright till—oh, it tolled for me.

Phillips has adapted his 2012 novel The Tragedy of Arthur, in which a fictional Arthur Phillips (the first of many such meta gambits) agonizes over what may be a long-lost Shakespeare play. Arthur (a hammy Jacques Roy) worries over the putative treasure’s provenance—though the manuscript was willed to him by a con-man father (Eric Emil Oleson), his sister (Sarah Hankins) wants to believe. As he struts and frets, he and his real-world circle begin to act out the parts of Arthur, Mordred and assorted other ancient Britons. In novel form, the story played with conventions of the written word: fictive letters from Random House, footnotes from invented scholars. Naturally, for the play version, Phillips had to jettison much, but he should never have turned so completely to his fakespearean text—particularly since its awfulness once seemed a deliberate part of the novel’s joke.

The Guerrilla Shakespeare Company Project’s cofounders (Roy and director Jordan Reeves) compound the error by treating this ersatz Elizabethanese as Revealed Truth. A few good talents (Geordie Broadwater, in minuscule roles) sparkle in the humorless muck, but even then, the waste is a shame. To borrow from Phillips and his exhausting quote-a-Bard poetry: Beshrew this thing.—Helen Shaw

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