The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I & II
The production starts out strong enough, with a bawdy song and a barroom brawl. Both song and fight are performed lustily. There's a hearty enthusiasm that permeates this production - the sword fights are accompanied by the grunts of effort; and you can see sweaty brows and disheveled hair as the result of performers going all out. In the intimate space of the Pasadena Playhouse's Balcony Theatre, it is a real treat to see well-choreographed battles played out fearlessly. (The company gives much credit to Hollywood Sword Master Tim Weske and a six-member Fight Team - and deservedly so.)
The tale follows the story of Bess, a beautiful young lady who (quite conveniently) is the daughter of a sword master who has educated her in the art. Bess is in love with Spencer, a wealthy young man who sails the high seas. When Spencer must go off to sea again, he leaves Bess in charge of his property, which includes a tavern. In the first act, the "one sword fight every ten minutes" rule is nearly fulfilled - as we see Spencer deal with some ruffians who are impolite to Bess (swords are involved), Spencer meet with an adventure (more swords), and Bess, back at home, defend herself from unwanted attentions (swords again). Even when steel is not clanging, the production keeps at a zippy pace. The script's Elizabethan melodramatic language is played for laughs and no comic stone is left unturned. When one wounded character rambles on about his impending death, he paces the stage, paying no attention to the difficulty this provides for his companion, who is attempting to keep pressure on the wound. And when Bess and Spencer kiss, they don't just kiss, but instead end the embrace with a simultaneous turn to the audience and sigh. All of this cute business keeps this tale of "love, valor, honor, justice ... and pirates!" sailing smoothly along.
The cast is delightful - everyone understands the stereotypical characters they are playing, and makes their performances true to type. Vonessa Martin is a fair and virtuous Bess; Shawn Lee is an honorable and determined Spencer; Katie Davies is a spunky barmaid who follows Bess; James C. Leary is Spencer's loyal best friend; and Eric Pargac is, as the character describes himself, "the only approved gallant in these parts." Many of the supporting characters distinguish themselves with comic mannerisms or accents - Doug Newell's lisping Spanish Captain being a standout example.
But after intermission, everything changes. Bess, Spencer, and their crew find themselves shipwrecked on an island where a Pirate King holds court. At first, the Pirate King is enamored of Bess (isn't everyone?) and wants her for himself, casting his Pirate Queen aside. But the King is moved by Bess and Spencer's eloquent pleas, and allows the two to marry. But wait! The King then changes his mind yet again and decides he wants to sleep with Bess. Meantime, the spurned Queen seeks revenge by planning to spend the night with Spencer. Of course, the King and Queen decide to share their plans not with their trusted confidants but with close friends of Spencer and Bess. You can see where this is going, right? But the play takes forever to get there. By the time the two associates of our heroes compare notes and try to think up a plan, the promised two-hour running time has been left in the dust and you start to wonder if you'll ever see another sword fight. It's as if a production of Mamma Mia! took a break from the ABBA songs and inserted a 45-minute book scene - somehow the framework on which all the fun and frolicking had been hung has become the central focus of the play.
It isn't nearly enough to sustain it. The hokey characters are well-enough realized for corny jokes and exciting battles, but they aren't nearly sufficient for the audience to actually care about what happens to them - particularly when the plot itself is extremely familiar and predictable. Had The Fair Maid of the West been edited down to a rollicking 90-minute single act, it would have been an extremely entertaining piece of escapist theatre. At two and a half hours, however, it gets bogged down in its own plot.
The Furious Theatre Company's production of The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I & II runs at the Balcony Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse through November 12, 2005. For tickets and information, see www.furioustheatre.org.
The Furious Theatre Company presents The Fair Maid of the West - Parts I & II. By Thomas Heywood; Adapted by James C. Leary & Dámaso Rodriguez. Director Damaso Rodriguez. Sword Master Tim Weske; Composer Thom Sharp; Lighting Design Christie Wright; Costume Design Rachel Canning; Makeup and Hair Christa McCarthy; Sound Design Doug Newell; Production Manager Brad Price; Stage Manager Michelle Barnes; Technical Director Brad Price; Master Electrician Vonessa Martin; Dramaturg Kim Kroll; Assistant Stage Manager Jessica Barnes; Assistant Stage Manager Tanya Mounsey; Textual Analysis Consultant Art Manke; Vocal Consultant Jenifer Parker; Dialect Coach Sara Hennessy; Graphic Design Eric Pargac; Original Artwork Valerie Meijer; Blog Videographer Brian Pargac; Program Content Ina Rometsch; Publicity Blanchette & Associates; Fight Team Brian Danner; Orion Barnes, Kevin Moran, Nate Hedrick, Josh Bradley and David C. Hernández.
Photo by Anthony Masters