The rollicking, deeply silly, remarkably funny production of the The Knight of the Burning Pestle currently at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, brought to us by Red Bull Theater and Fiasco Theater, has moments so seemingly contemporary that one has to wonder how much of Francis's Beaumont's 400-year-old play remains. The answer is, quite a lot. And it's wonderful.
|The cast of The Knight of the Burning Pestle
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Considered to be the first whole play of its sort--that is, a parody (satirical) crossed with a pastiche (loving). While the main object of the parody--chivalric romance--is no longer a popular genre, The Knight also parodies theatre, actors, and audiences, all of which, I am happy to say, are still with us. While not exactly like any of the following, The Knight shares at least some DNA with, to name a few, Pyramus and Thisbe (the play within the play in A Midsummer Night's Dream), Noises Off, Story Theatre (and story theatre), and various farces.
The Knight of the Burning Pestle presents us with two plays. In the outer play, a grocer complains to a company of actors that his profession is not well-represented in theatre. With the help of a fair of amount of bribery, and the logic/illogic of his wife, the grocer gets the company of actors to agree to add a Knight Errant to their play (The London Merchant). This character is to be performed by the grocer's assistant (who refers to the character as a Grocer Errant). As the original actors try to act their original play, the grocer and his wife object, interject, and correct, making very amusing pains of themselves.
The fabulous cast carries off these shenanigans with great energy and aplomb, and they surely must enjoy getting to play, for example, a horse, an idiot suitor, an aggressively happy man who sings rather than talks, a ghost, a mother who plays favorites, and so on. The cast includes Jessie Austrian, Royer Bockus, Tina Chilip, Paul L. Coffey, Devin E. Haqq, Teresa Avia Lim, Darius Pierce, Ben Steinfeld, Paco Tolson, and Tatiana Wechsler.
The direction, by Noah Brody and Emily Young, is endlessly creative and filled with the love of theatre, seamlessly merging modern and Jacobean tropes.
Fiasco Theater has committed to practicing sustainability in their shows, and parameters were set to limit waste in all aspects of design. This frugality in no way restrained the creativity of the designers: scenery, Christopher Swader & Justin Swader; costumes, Yvonne Miranda; lighting, Reza Behjat; props, Samantha Shoffner.
By Wendy Caster