‘The Ballad of the Red Knight’ at Port City Playhouse and Red Knight Productions by Jenna Miller

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
I had a great time at The Ballad of the Red Knight – a comedic adventure that takes place in Medieval Story Land. The Red Knight is a prince known for using his silver tongue to negotiate rather than fight. He is forced to put his skill to the test when he needs to save his kingdom from the evil Lord Fango of the Bat People. When his brother Richard is thrown in prison and he is forced to marry Lord Fango’s crazy daughter Fanglett, the Red Knight must summon all his courage to negotiate his way out of his bizarre situation. It is a fantasy reminiscent of The Princess Bride, Shrek, and Army of Darkness, and both adults and children will have a great time like I did.

Lord Fango (Charles Boyington).
Lord Fango (Charles Boyington).

The world premiere of The Ballad of the Red Knight was co-produced by Red Knight Productions – a creative group grounded in improv and sketch comedy and Port City Playhouse. The show is a “prequel” to Medieval Storyland which was first performed at the July 2012 Capital Fringe Festival

Scott Courlander wrote the clever and often silly script and his excellent direction kept the tone light and the action fast-paced. I loved how the bat guards skipped out saying, “Transitioning, transitioning!” during scene transitions, and the way the emotional scenes between Red and Fanglett turned comedic as they kept looking – but not looking – at each other.

The fight choreography by Casey Kaleba was great and the swordplay during the fight scenes was so enjoyable. The fight between Lord Fango and King Marthur was done in slow motion which was hysterical!

What made The Ballad of the Red Knight even more enjoyable was the camaraderie on the stage. The actors and sword-swingers were having as much fun as the audience and their enthusiasm was infectious.

The costume design by Brittany Graham and JoAnn Abbott was fantastic! The knights wore matching knee-high black boots, black sweat pants, a silver long-sleeved shirt (to resemble armor) and a tunic in their color (i.e. Yellow Knight, Green Knight, Blue Knight) cinched with a belt with their sword hanging from the belt. The bat guards wore black sweatpants, black boots, and white shirts with a black cape to resemble bat wings when they fluttered about the stage. Fanglette wore a long sleeved shiny purple renaissance style dress while Lord Fango wore black leggings, black sneakers, and a large black and purple wizards robe.

I loved the costumes worn by the army of slugs. The three actors playing them wore a head-to-toe embellished hideous green covering complete with protruding eyeballs at the head. It was a startling surprise when they burst onto the stage and began attacking the knights.

The lighting design by Paul Callahan was simple and effective using dimmed lighting when the scene took place in the prison or during the emotional moments between Red and Fanglett, and bright lighting during the rest of the play. Sound Designer Aaron Fensterheim also kept it simple with bat sound effects or the sound of water dripping in the prison. Music by composer William Yanesh and piano accompaniment by Jonathan Tippens and Arielle Bayer enhanced the mood. This was one of the few non-musicals I’ve seen where I actually paid attention to the music and sound during the show, and then remembered it the next day.

Three colorful actors played three colorful knights. The emotional and nice Yellow Knight was played by Edward Nagel and The violent Green Knight was portrayed with vigor and a scowl by Matthew Sparacino. The wise Blue Knight was portrayed quietly by Bob Sheire until Act 2 when his only line was the repetition of “I’m the Blue Knight.” Each time he repeated his name, he was able to effectively imply his meaning. For example, when meeting up with Richard he meant  “Great to see you again” or when he was the only one looking behind them and noticed they were being surrounded – his tone suggested “Look out!”

The goofy grinning bat guards (Brendan Edward Kennedy and Carl Brandt Long) were wonderful as the comedic foils. Richard (Kyle McGruther) was impetuous and in the shadow of his brother Red. The Narrator (Stephen Mead) was able to move the pacing along with his recapping of events. John Stange brought some Gloom to the story as The Gloom Mage. What appeared to be a harmless character when we first met him, his facial expressions implied that he wasn’t who we thought he was!

The center of the story is the Red Knight (Christopher Herring), Lord Fango (Charles Boyington), and Fanglett (Katie Zitz). They all do a great job of creating empathy for their characters and holding our attention. Herring and ZItz have great chemistry in their scenes. My favorite scene was their wedding night when Red is drunk and uninterested and Fanglett is in love and wants the “romantic blood sucking” to begin. It was outrageously funny. Boyington’s Lord Fargo was my favorite because he was having so much fun entertaining the audience when he could have just been the clichéd bad guy. I also rooted for Red to realize Fanglett wasn’t odd and fall in love with her as well. I wanted a happy ending for all involved.

The Ballad of the Red Knight is a fun ‘knight’ out in the theatre!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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The Ballad of the Red Knight plays through February 8, 2014 at Port City Playhouse -1819 North Quaker Lane in Alexandria, VA. Tickets may be purchased at theater box office one hour prior to showtime, or online.