Noah J Nelson on Wednesday, Jun. 13th
About ten minutes into Murray Mednick’s The Fool and the Red Queen I became ashamed of my theatre education. How, I wondered, had I not been exposed to Mednick’s work while I was in college? Why had I been denied access to this vein of rich, lyrical wordplay?
The Fool and the Red Queen is comprised of two segments of Mednick’s “Gary” cycle of plays, which focuses on a Los Angeles actor who lost his son years ago to violence. Gary now lives in a kind of shattered landscape of poetry and vengeful metaphors that lurk just at the edges of reality. At least that’s how it seems from this sampling, as I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing the other five extant plays in the cycle (the eighth is due next year). The two that comprise the “Fool” set are driven through the richness of language out of familiar Los Angeles environs right through the surreal and into the sublime.
That’s what we chase in theatre, after all, the sublime. Whether it is lurking in the haunted shrouds of our memories or in the kinetic thrill of a selfless acrobat. Mednick’s poetry is the kind of work I would have gladly shanked another actor for the chance to recite back in my acting days. Perhaps the suburb cast that was assembled by Mednick and his co-director Guy Zimmerman felt my hungry stare from the third row of the small Lounge Theatre house. I wouldn’t begrudge them the chance to play their parts, as the fusion of actors and roles have burned themselves into place on my mental tablet. I wouldn’t want to see anyone else perform this play than this superb cast. This appears to be hyperbole, I know. For that I apologize. It’s been a while since I was affected by language so directly.
The first half of the show introduces (or catches us up) with Gary (John Diehl), who is auditioning for two producers making a film they haven’t quite seemed to have figured out yet. The producers feed off Gary’s still lingering grief and draw out of him raw material for their production. The film to be– The Fool & The Red Queen– is a medieval war fantasy about a repentant solider named Rikki (Diehl, again) who encounters a banished fool in an inn. The second act takes us within that story. There we discover the broken relationship between the titular Fool (Bill Celentano) and the emotionally overbearing Queen Julia Prud’homme).
It’s impossible to say if the Fool/Queen dynamic is an exploration of a failed marriage, a parent-child relationship, or that of the artist and his muse. The most likely answer is that it is all of that and more.
The current convention in America holds action and narrative structure– plot, for those of you who prefer the monosyllabic term– far above the power of artfully crafted dialogue. Some of this is Hollywood’s fault, with its rigid formulas propped up by studio accountant spread sheets and warehouses filled with screenwriting books. Much of the rest can be laid at the feet of soft vast middle America cultural underbelly: outside of hip-hop and the slam scene we don’t have much of a place for poetry anymore. Instead we take joy in the skill of the copywriter’s minimalist prose. This is a literary crime capitalism commits daily.
There were times during The Fool and the Red Queen that I became completely lost in the language. Sometimes for the best, and other times just genuinely lost. The play is aware of this, and with the Narrator (Peggy A. Blow) on stage during the second act, frequently asking the audience “did you follow that?”
Sadly some of the audience didn’t make it that far. There were a number of empty seats by the time the second act began, and I can’t entirely fault them. The play asks more of it’s audience than most audiences are used to giving. At the points when I got lost thrown from the text I found myself wanting to read the play as opposed to hearing it. This is the same issue I faced when first confronted with Shakespeare and later Ben Johnson. I have learned that it is not so much a problem as a signifier that I need to become attuned to the poet’s words and rhythms. An agony that leads to ecstasy for the theatrically inclined. We are, it seems, a dying breed.
If you count yourself amongst our number, or if you are sick the flat dialouge of contemporary films, do not tarry. Get to the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood and open your ears.
While The Fool and the Red Queen, presented by Padua Playwrights, is a production that began before the Hollywood Fringe it is taking part in the festival. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through June 24th at through June 24th. Lounge Theatre 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.