By John Farrell
The Lady of Shalott is the latest production from Aaron Ganz and his new theater group in San Pedro, Theatre Elysium San Pedro Rep.
It was obvious from the moment you stepped into the small theater that this was going to be much more than just a play.
The premises on Seventh St. had been transformed into a small museum of memorabilia and relics from The Lady of Shalott, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1842 poem of a legend of King Arthur.
Before the play begins the audience is allowed in the theater. The poem inspired many artists in the Victorian era. John William Waterhouse, the painter, is perhaps the best known. His paintings are on the simple brick wall, on a suit of armor, King Arthur’s sword in its stone and a written version of the poem on foolscap. But that poem, as dramatic as it is, is no play. It took Ganz’ extraordinary imagination and the adapting skills of David Mancini — listed as dramaturge as well as adapter — to turn the story from its focus on the Lady to a retelling of the Arthurian legend.
Ganz and Mancini used Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and even a little Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Shakespeare to flesh out the story.
Lady of Shalott is a shimmering, exciting, sometimes bewildering and always exalting celebration of Arthurian legend. Its action, which begins and ends with the Lady in White of Tennyson’s iconic poem and stretches metaphorically from the beginning of the legend to it’s bitter end. Geographically, in the theater from the round table in the back (where member’s of the audience occasionally sit and people walking down the alley stand and look) to every nook and cranny inside, is a mixture of rock songs, modern dance, violent and frightening sword play and murder.
By itself The Lady of Shalott isn’t a drama. Ganz took the four-part poem and expanded it to a story that invokes the Arthurian legend, a legend of love and honor and betrayal. A story that responds to dancing, to music and to violence.
The play doesn’t quite begin: instead it just starts flowing, the audience moving and flowing with it from room to room. First there is Paris Langle, the one contemporary character in this production, dressed in black and mourning over the art. From there the action flows back and forth, with the audience, some seated (temporarily) some standing, getting a view of the dancing and singing and acting, being treated by the actors as participants dancing at the wedding feast, sitting at the Round Table and feeling a little insecure as the fabulous sword-fights range only a few feet away. There are two intermissions, announced only by the lights coming up and the actor’s retreating. This isn’t a new way of seeing theater (Ganz did it in his last production, Wouldn’t It Be Lovely,) but it does require a new mindset. You can’t just sit in your comfy plush seat and sleep the evening away. You have to keep moving and watch the actors for cues to where the action is going to be.
Cassandra Ambe is the white-clad Lady, trying hard not to be interested in the world that flows by her window, which, because of the curse, she can only watch in a mirror. But when she spies Sir Launcelot (Sam Fleming), the handsome and upright flower of the knights, she begins to want to see things herself. King Arthur (William Reinbold) wants to begin an era of peace and justice, though he has to explain why he is king to a youngster with democratic leanings. He does fall in love at once with the Guinevere (the delightful and delicious Jamie Ann Burke) but so does Lancelot. And when Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, (Dorrie Braun) introduces Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (his name sounds like death and Chris Lang looks the part) the end is inevitable.
The music is eclectic, everything from rocks songs which the audience sings, including the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and not only Dance Choreographer Laura Linda Bradley and Fight Choreographers Kevin Moran and Danielle Burlington deserve kudos. How many times have you had a great appreciation for the lighting? It was designed by John Delfino. San Pedro Rep can be hot on these summer nights, so wear cool clothing and be prepared to experience one of the most exciting nights of theater anywhere.
Tickets are $25 and $20, for students. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Sept. 21. There aren’t any performances Aug. 28 through 31.
Details: (424) 264-5747; www.sanpedrorep.org
Venue: T.E. San Pedro Rep Theatre
Location: 331 W. 7th St., San Pedro