“I knew before I was diagnosed. I could feel it growing inside me…” Zach (Craig Wesley Divino) addresses us across the fourth wall, looking into audience eyes, connecting. A medieval scholar, he then launches into Arthurian references which manifest a battlefield scene directly from them.
In full regalia, we see Morgan (Sharina Martin) and her fatally wounded love, Tristan (Divino), murdered by Mordred (Matthew Bovee). The intermittent play within the play represents a wildly popular television series called Round Table for which Zach consults and occasionally writes.
In order to commune with his muse, our hero also belongs to a group that role plays the legend of King Arthur. Those involved take the practice very seriously. Representing all that’s good and true in the face of unstoppable evil, Zach acts out his own situation, facing death with the same eloquent speech at the end of each scenario.
The young man is, in fact, dying. Estranged from his parents, evidently friendless but for fellow gamers, the only person who knows about role-play and his illness is attentive brother Kay (Karl Gregory). Kay is named for King Arthur’s brother. (This is said without a single reference to their parents’ interest in the tale.)
We’re in a contemporary bar. Laura (Liba Vaynberg) writes paperback romances while mulling the great American novel. She’s Zach’s first ever dating site hook-up. He’s socially naïve, inadvertently comments that unlacing a corset takes a really long time, and admits to having no R & R outside of work. Laura is savvy and smart. She’s also intrigued. They leave together.
Kay tries to get a hold of Zach. Whoosh, we’re back watching an episode of Round Table with Morgan and Merlin. Zoom! We’re in Zach’s apartment after the two make love. (Excalibur pajama pants are inspired.) Laura turns into a screaming, ten year-old groupie when she finds out Zach works on the show, then speaks directly to us. “It’s tricky to be a feminist and fall in love…” Zap! We’re back with the gamers as Morgan threatens Mordred.
Between “real” life, dissolution of the fourth wall, play-acting, and the TV series (same cast, more elaborate costumes), one feels jerked around. Further complicating input, contemporary characters pass behind a translucent scrim often as medieval ones interact. We don’t need to see both the show and Arthurian games. The former takes up time that might be used to further explore relationships.
Laura and Zach get serious. She tries to join role-play but is completely out of written character doing so, i.e. literally unbelievable. Zach grows weaker.
Language is rife with poetry even outside Camelot. A pleasure to hear, speech is perhaps too much the same coming out of every character’s mouth without distinction. The brothers’ bond is particularly well realized. Laura is familiar. Zach’s withholding is palpable. The story is creative, plausible, and sometimes unexpectedly elegant. Clearly Liba Vaynberg can write. She just needs an editor.
Director Geordie Broadwater seems to let some players pass while others focus. Every character has an opportunity to speak directly to us – some unnecessarily – yet only half breach the wall. The others, alas, look “out” but not “at” – a loss to narrative and consistency. A few over emote and gesture, while others are naturalistic. Use of staging area is good as is overall pacing. Swordplay, for which no one’s given separate credit is excellent.
Craig Wesley Divino’s Zach is sympathetic and believable. The actor communicates tenderness with an occasional edge of urgency, familial history, immersion in the world he’s built for himself, and intractable approach to illness. We almost hear his brain hum with poetry.
Karl Gregory is equally credible as Zach’s brother Kay. A minimalist by nature, he shows anxiety, frustration, devotion, and a touch of the helpless anger one must experience watching a loved one die. The performer has created a whole person with noted specifics.
As Laura, playwright Liba Vaynberg is quick, funny, hopeful, and understandably confused. Her distress is less well embodied, her monologues a bit slick = anticipating too much in the role she’s written.
Sharina Martin (Morgan/Lena) and Matthew Bovee (Mordred/Jeff) have splendid moments.
Izmir Ickbal’s minimal set does an excellent job of evoking multiple environments. Costumes by Johanna Pan are imaginative and apt. Love the horns. Sound design by Fan Zhang arrives nuanced and atmospheric.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Matthew Bovee, Craig Wesley Divino, Sharina Martin, Liba Vaynberg
Fault Line Theatre and Anna & Kitty Inc. present
Round Table by Liba Vaynberg
Directed by Geordie Broadwater
Through October 20, 2019