If you haven’t been to the Arsenal Arts Center in Watertown, you’re missing out: Two theater spaces, one downstairs, one up, two floors of gallery space for art exhibits with studios for quilters, painters, sculptors etc., a resident children’s theater, the resident New Repertory company, an arts and crafts shop and an eatery with reasonable prices just next door. (And I should add, a free parking garage.)
This month two striking productions (one upstairs on the main stage and one in the black box downstairs) center around Kings, one British, one Scottish, one with a noble heart and one with base ambition.
New Repertory’s joyous production of Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT (playing through Dec. 22nd) celebrates the age of chivalry and pomp, when the King of the Brittons brought law and heroics to medieval England. (According to the 9th century writer Nennius, a king named Arthur defeated the Saxons in the year 500.) The Arthurian legend is made accessible in CAMELOT by humanizing the mythology in a love story…two love stories, in fact.
CAMELOT resonates at this particular time, not just because of the 50th anniversary of the “Kennedy Camelot,” but because of its overarching message of peace. Arthur despairs that “we have battles for no reason” other than artificial boundaries, something he learned when the magician Merlin turned him into a hawk as a boy and he soared over the vast, open land.
For CAMELOT to soar, you need crackerjack acting and inspired singing. Director Russell Garrett’s lovely production has both. Benjamin Evett triumphs as the “ideal” king, keenly aware of his obligation to everyman since he himself was a commoner before drawing the famous sword from the stone. You see Evett grow from hopeful bridegroom to heavy-hearted monarch, graying with the years and the strain of knowing he’s lost his Guenevere (a resplendent and luminous Erica Spyres) to Lancelot.
Marc Koeck makes a dashing Lancelot, whose declarations of purity inspire jealousy in his fellow knights. Knockabout, swaggering performances from Kevin Cirone, Michael J. Borges and Maurice Emmanuel Parent add delightful humor to the story, as do Robert D. Murphy’s two (!) star turns, first as the “youthening” Merlin and then as a magnificent, blustery King Pellinore.
Nick Sulfaro as the sleazy, scheming Mordred leads the knights away from Arthur in the deliciously naughty “Fie on Goodness.” Except for Guenevere, CAMELOT is a male dominated vehicle but Shonna Cirone as Guenevere’s chief lady-in-waiting, Katie Clark as Morgan Le Fey and all the women who cavort in the “Lusty Month of May” make the distaff presence count. Every number is full of spirit. Even a treacherous trumpet on opening night couldn’t dampen my delight.
Downstairs from the musical, a darker world unfolds in director Joey DeMita’s gloomy, atmospheric MACBETH, presented by F.U.D.G.E. and playing through Nov. 30th. DeMita’s compelling “weird sisters” (‘wyrd’ being old Anglo-Saxon for ‘fate’) come equipped with crimson bands which can ensnare their prey… create a witching triangle… or seem to form the dagger Macbeth sees before his eyes. These witches choose when to be seen but they’re present throughout, profaning the “blessed heath,” on or around a stylized bridge which spans the stage.
DeMita’s clever imagining sets a deep pool of water (James Petty’s dynamic set) in a wooden island which can become a table for the banquet scene or a stream for washing away blood or a wading pool for Banquo’s ghost. DeMita is fortunate to have two strong leads in Dave Rich and Linda Goetz. Rich has a fiery intensity which reminded me of Al Pacino and Goetz seemed to embody Lady Macbeth’s wish to be a man. She will do anything to achieve her goal, including humiliating her husband. Her “give me the daggers” was truly chilling. I haven’t seen such power in a Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in years.