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Somebody is going Medieval on you

MedievalStoryLand 2“This is deus ex machina  ...  it happens in quest stories all the time.”

Thank you for that observation, plucky dwarf companion Whisker-Toe.  Our intrepid friend is not the only one to notice that most fantasy stories these days seem to have quite a few common themes, which go all the way back to Tolkien and keep popping up all the time.  Good authors treat these concepts imaginatively, but other writers overuse them to the point of cliché.

And Scott Courlander, the writer of “Medieval Story Land,” takes those clichés from countless fantasy novels and films and goes to town with them. 

Currently at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn, Red Knight Productions remounts their 2012 Fringe offering – a loony trip through a quest journey where our heroes encounter nearly every overused trope and hackneyed device one finds in such stories.  It is an affectionate if no less devastatingly funny parody of the whole genre.

Set in vaguely medieval times – where else? – our story centers on a young elf boy named Todd.  He is young, and very strong, and often quite stupid.  He is quite naïve and easily distracted.  Out of nowhere he is given a quest to overcome the evil forces of the Dark Black Darkness.  It proves to be a very vague quest, but off he goes on his journey and immediately starts running into people who decide to tag along.

And they immediately get lost.

It is kind of hard to talk about the play without giving away the jokes.  You know the main story already: Todd will leave his familiar home, meet all sorts of new friends, battle all sorts of evil doers, and learn about himself. 

But nothing here works as smoothly as it does in Tolkien.  For one thing, the fearsome beast called the Ocelopatrops is obviously an actor in a monster suit who has a nasty habit of not staying dead.  Todd is not the only person in Medieval Story Land named Todd and they all think they are the chosen one.  And the advice from wizards is not helped by the fact that dwarf companion Whisker-Toe really has this thing against wizards.

Edward Nagel plays our hero Todd straight, despite all the naïve non sequitors that come out of his mouth.  This elf obviously has a heart of gold, even if his thinking is frequently mush.  Among his companions I especially liked Britt Duff as the scene stealing Whisker-Toe and Seth Rosenke as a not always helpful Troll servant named Graglore. 

Meanwhile, actor Brendan Kennedy plays a number of bad guys quite well, including Todd’s extremely unhelpful father in the most serious moment in the story.  The live music adds a lot to the proceedings, for setting the mood, adding a well-timed sound effect, and as another comic element.

The dozen actors frequently play multiple parts, including a number of trees in the opening forest scenes.  It can get a little crowded up there on the Arts Barn when everyone is on stage, but generally director Jason Schlafstein keeps everything moving at a good clip as we dive from one hapless action sequence to another.

You don’t need to know the difference between a Phoenix and a Falcor to enjoy this romp, but when Todd is given a magic sword named Phoenix-Falcor, fans of the genre will get the references.  Be prepared for a ton of in-jokes from the Millennium Wizard to Sir Swordsly, but even newcomers to the genre and most kids will have a blast without understanding all the allusions.

Along the way many questions are answered.  Will the forces of good overcome the forces of evil?  How much does a tree weigh? Will the young lovers get together in the end?  How do you pronounce the word “dwarf”?  Has there ever been a more economical way to portray a dragon on stage?

For fans of fantasy literature, the answers to some of those questions are obvious. 

“Medieval Story Land” continues at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn through August 25.  For tickets, call the Arts Barn at (301) 258-6394 or visit them online at www.gaithersburgmd.gov/theater.

3 stars 

David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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