Thursday, August 08, 2013

power, sex and hope: the ageless story of Camelot

Get widget
"...The winter is forbidden till DecemberAnd exits March the second on the dotBy order, summer lingers through September...There is simply nota more congenieal spotthan here in Camelot" -  King Arthur in Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner
Imagine an idyllic city. A holy city. A beautiful, hopeful city, warm and inviting and surrounded by sparkling water. A city bursting with the best life has to offer: Love. Power. Wealth. Gentility. Diligence. Charity. Elegance. 

But it seems wherever virtuous self-promotion commands the limelight, a seedier side lurks nearby in the shadows: Infidelity. Greed. Illegitimacy. Intrigue. Revenge. Desire. War. 

Even in Camelot. Or Charleston.

I am not in the business of theatre reviews, but I do support the arts, especially theatre. A new production of Camelot recently opened in Charleston at the beautiful Dock Street Theatre. I must confess that, as much as I love musical theatre, Camelot has never been one of my favorites. I saw a tour version a few years ago and it just seemed....well....tired. So tired that even a touring cast of professionals couldn't breathe much life into it. 

But then Mary Cimino, a dear theatre friend of mine, told me she was directing a local production of Camelot.  Mary cast me in my first Charleston production in 1989, playing character roles in Annie the Dock Street Theatre. It is largely because of this production that I made some of the best friends of my life, including my husband of 20 years. Mary also hired me to create the role of Miss Bea Haven in a premiere Piccolo Spoleto production, Red & White Blues. Creating a role is every actor's dream, even a secondary role in a local play. I was not at all what the producers had envisioned for this part, but I knew who this character was. I gave them everything I had at my audition, and as a result Mary went against type to cast me. She still calls me "Bea" when she thinks I'm being bad.

So when Mary called to ask if I would do a story on her new production of CamelotI figured I owed her that much. It didn't hurt that my daughter was reading "King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" for school. I put my prejudice aside and went see what my friend was up to. 

Mary told me when Footlight Players asked her to direct this production, at first she was at a loss. Then she remembered the words of Arthurian scholar, Norris J. Lacy, who noted that "Camelot, located nowhere in particular, can be anywhere." She looked around at her adopted hometown and realized that Camelot could just as well be here.

She said, "In pondering some of Alan J Lerner’s lyrics... I could not help but think of our very own captivating city of Charleston. Natives (who) leave ...longingly reminisce about our town's unique charm and beauty. Charleston has its own magic. It is, in essence, our Camelot. So, I decided to use as my inspiration the phrase Camelot in Charleston. And what better place to be blessed to stage this enchanting show but in the historic and magical Dock Street Theatre, where the first play ever produced in our country was staged --a timelessly classic venue for a timelessly classic show."

I attended a dress rehearsal with my husband, the very husband whose eye I first captured in this very theatre oh so many years ago. As we watched the performers and listened to their songs (under the brilliant direction of another longtime theatre friend, Margaret Coleman Saunders), I dropped any preconceived ideas and let everything pass through the historical, social and aesthetic filter that is uniquely Charleston. 

Paul O'Brien's King Arthur was the quintessential scion of South of Broad, a hulking golden-haired quarterback with good bones and better intentions, trying to do something noble without really knowing what he was doing at all, whose life was preordained by the silliest of things. In this case it was a magical sword, but it might well have been a family law practice.   
Jonah Klixbull's Lancelot was the handsome man "from off" as they say in Charleston, a foreigner with enough credentials and breeding to fit in, a baritone who just wanted to be on the same team with the quarterback, until he fell in love with his best friend's girl and screwed everything up before escaping with her back to "off." 

The girl was Guinevere as played by Christina Leidel, a tall reedy beauty with a lilting voice and a set of her own ambitions, forced into an arranged marriage that blossomed into true love, where she enjoyed security and privilege and attended all the right balls before throwing it all away for passion, a bigger sword and a French accent. 

No drama is complete without comic relief - enter Fredric DeJaco as the bumbling but endearing old King Pellinore, whose likeness you would see at every garden party and gin joint. Sarah Callahan, another more recent acting colleague, brought her pure stellar presence to the stage in choral and choreographic support, along with many other ladies and gentlemen of the court. 

And there were those pesky protagonists. A jealous and vengeful Morgan Le Fey was sensually portrayed by the voluptuous Janae Tanti. David Giammarella - aka Cadet Captain David Giammarella - portrayed the wickedly wonderful Mordred, bastard son and secret nemesis of King Arthur, with enthusiastic glee.

The sets modeled Charleston as their inspiration, with the castle door resembling the front doors of the Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street and the gothic windows taking their design from the Summerall Chapel at the Citadel. The Citadel also claimed the stage in the person of Mr. Giammarella, who is both Regimental Activities Officer of the Citadel Class of 2014 and President of the Citadel Gay and Lesbian Alliance. For all her faults, Charleston is a city of odd alliances; while she holds onto the past with an iron grip (non-natives still cannot be buried behind St. Phillips church and you still can't paint your piazza the wrong color), she knows where and when to move forward. 

And that is where Camelot got me this go 'round. Any play can become tired, but that is the fault of the production team, not of the story. The story of Camelot truly is timeless and place-less  Which is why the legend of King Arthur still reverberates with audiences and readers today.

As the play tumbles on, we watch helplessly as the 'perfect' story goes awry, as the lovely family is torn and the kingdom damaged. We watch as a beleaguered ruler - one who doubted his ability to rule in the first place - has lost his best friend, his partner, his company, and everything he ever thought important. Arthur is at the point of despair. He wonders what was the point of it all. He wonders if the sun will ever shine again.

We all know that kind of despair. Our house is losing value. Our children drop out of college. Our car breaks down right after we spend $2400 in repairs. Our parents need help dressing and remembering their own names. Our job is downsized. Our partner leaves. Our best friend dies. Our god seems far away and our faith is shot through with holes. 

Then Arthur encounters a young idealist named Tom, a sprite of a lad who is infected with the vision Arthur planted throughout his kingdom. Arthur catches a glimmer of hope from the young man, who helps him see that the wreckage cannot undo the moral of the story, nor can it negate any good that was done or was yet to be done. He not only remembers, he re-images his vision. He isn't done for. His story hasn't ended. Life isn't over, it has just made some really sharp turns. He chooses to make them for the better.

Ah. That is what my writing is all about. Not to pretend life is always wonderful and peachy and flawless and Camelot perfect. But to find the good while weathering the bad. To rise above the garbage and the noise and the stink to see and share the good things that find their way like water through the cracks, wearing away the stone until it breaks free and falls as a welcome rain to refresh us. I believe that through the hardness of life, love and goodness will always prevail. Rather than being a tired story, I believe that is THE story. 

So if you're in the Charleston area and want to see a timeless story in a magical place, make your way to the Dock Street Theatre and the Footlight Players production of Camelot. And tell Mary that Cindi sent you. She'll be glad to see you. 

No comments :

Post a Comment

Have something to add? Let me know what you think!