Los Angeles Theater Review: A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT (Son of Semele Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on August 15, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles


Those of you who love amusement parks will know that a “dark ride” is an indoor attraction where riders in guided vehicles travel through specially lit scenes that typically contain sound, special effects, animation, and music – from non-thematic Boardwalk Love Canals to truncated storytelling, such as “Snow White’s Scary Adventures” in Disneyland. Although these rides can be bright (“Small World”), the term comes from the selective use of darkness that hides the ride’s mechanisms, thereby increasing the visual drama of the experience. Many rides around the world lean towards scarier material, hence the name used in other countries: “ghost train.”

A theatrical dark ride is exactly what you will get when you see A Tale Told by an Idiot, presented by Psittacus Productions; but instead of the iconic two-minute “Peter Pan’s Flight,” Robert Richmond and Louis Butelli present a 60-minute adaptation (they call it a deconstruction) of Macbeth as seen through a feverish dream of Guy Fawkes, the infamous Gunpowder Plot mastermind, on the night before his attempted regicide of James I in 1605 – the same year that Shakespeare scribed the Scottish Tragedy. Instead of cogent storytelling, Tale focuses on the disjointed thoughts that may accompany a terrorist before, during and after his crime. Fawkes (the eminently classical Butelli) himself is a character, but his dialogue is that of Macbeth, while another actor (Daryl Crittendon) actually portrays Macbeth.

None of this confuses once we realize that Tale is the best of Macbeth; scenes and dialogue are cut and pasted – some seemingly out of chronological order. As it is, the script is presented comic-book style behind a scrim with black-clad actors who illumine themselves using flashlights. Since there is no other lighting, we are left to imagine (as audiences would have in Shakespeare’s day) the dank hallways of a castle where plotters whisper behind the arras; or a misty, boggy forest that has prognosticating witches lurking about. This contrivance services the project astoundingly well – it is performance art with the fourth wall reinstalled, and the inventiveness is not something you will see often.

The device of spooky snippets in lieu of a smooth narrative sustained my attention, but ultimately it left me longing for an imaginative retelling of the entire tragedy, especially whenever Lisa Carter, as Lady Macbeth, glorified the stage with some of the most imaginative, original interpretations of the Machiavellian plotter’s dialogue you will ever witness. Some of the acting contained odd choices, such as ghoulish laughter from Duncan (Darin Dahms) that sounded like it was coming from an audio-animatronic pirate. There is a longing for director Richmond, creative stager that he is, to explore the characterizations further. Aside from Miss Carter, the staging is the star of the show (which is chillingly complemented by Graham Galatro’s compositions).

Psittacus Productions achieved what they set out to do, but as a stand-alone piece, it’s just not compelling enough. It’s a noble idea, but there needs to be some kind of context regarding Fawkes’ amazingly tense situation: what if there were original dialogue written for Fawkes and his cohorts? Then, once he is left alone to guard the gunpowder while waiting to kill the King, his own thoughts are driven away, and Macbeth manifests in his mind; then back and forth from Fawkes’s trial to Macbeth to Fawkes’s hanging to Macbeth, etc.

Otherwise, the recommendation for A Tale Told by an Idiot depends on how you feel about dark rides: if you’re a Macbeth purist, you may not wish to visit Shakespeareland to ride this attraction. However, if it doesn’t matter and you just love a dark ride with eerie scenes and ghostly lighting, A Tale Told by an Idiot is a diverting but esoteric enterprise that should be called “Guy Fawkes’s Scary Adventures.”

photos by Wenona Cole-Mclaughlin
video by Daryl Crittenden and Mark Hampton
poster by Katharine LiBretto

A Tale Told by an Idiot
Psittacus Productions
Son of Semele Ensemble, 3301 Beverly Blvd.
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7
ends on July 25, 2010
for tickets, visit Psittacus or SOSE

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