DRAPER — I love attending the premiere of a new script. Sure, it’s nice to go to a production of a classic script where you are pretty sure of what you’re going to see. But in my opinion, a new play is exciting because it holds so much promise and potential. So, I went to Draper Historic Theatre last Saturday night to see Knight for a Day, a new script written by Paul Gibbs and Patrick Gibbs.
The Gibbses’ script is a 21st century fairy tale that takes place in a distant medieval past. Ariana (Rosalie Bertrand) and Philip (Patrick Gibbs) are an adult brother and sister whose personal interests and desires do not coincide with the plans their parents have laid out for their lives. The problem is that the parents are the King Cedric (James Boley) and Queen Elena (Michele Rideout); Philip is the heir to the throne and Ariana’s duty is to marry a prince. When their uncle Cyril (Justin Bruse) creates an uprising in order to usurp the throne, Philip is captured and it falls to Ariana to stop her uncle with the help of her ladies in waiting, Miranda (Alexa Rideout) and Gwyn (Becky Gardner).
The biggest strength of the script is the ideas that the play teaches: allowing children to pursue their interests, giving girls and women the opportunities and respect that men have, and the importance of family harmony. I also think that the playwrights have infused the script with a lot of humor, which makes the final product an enjoyable action-comedy. (I especially loved Ariana’s line, “What’s the point in having a brother if I can’t be disrespectful?”)
The acting throughout the evening was pleasant and consistent, and I never felt like any of the cast members were particularly weak. Bertrand delivered an excellent performance. I don’t think that the role of Ariana would be very easy; Bertrand was required to kick butt and take names (mostly by swordfighting) but not lose her femininity or come off as a 21st century feminist. I thought she pulled off the lead role well and certainly had the stage presence necessary to drive most of the scenes that she appears in. I also enjoyed the seemingly genuine chemistry that Bertrand had with Patrick Gibbs, who played her brother Philip. The two shared a lot of little moments on stage that subtly reminded the audience that these were lifelong siblings.
Among the supporting roles, I was impressed by Monte Garcia (playing Bernardo) and Zachari Michael Reynolds (playing Gaspard). I think that both men enjoyed their roles, whether they were taking orders from Cyril, swordfighting with other actors, or having an intimate exchange with a member of the opposite sex. Garcia was particularly believable as a key player in an insurrection. Reynolds was excellent at trading barbs with Bertrand during their big swordfight; he made both activities seem like second nature. I also enjoyed the camaraderie between the ladies in waiting (and reluctant defenders of the dynasty) Miranda and Gwyn as portrayed by Alexa Rideout and Gardner respectively.
In addition to writing the script, Patrick and Paul Gibbs directed the production. Because they were so intimately familiar with the script, I think that the two excellently focused on the important message of the script and the relationships among the main characters. I was also impressed by the fight scenes throughout the evening, which may be among the best I’ve ever seen in an amateur theatre production. (I even wished that many had been longer. I never tired of the sharp metallic clang of the sword hitting each other.) However, many of their actors had accents, which I found distracting because often every actor on stage had a different accent. I don’t think the accents were necessary because they didn’t add to the characterization and I think that the direction would have stronger if they had told the actors to speak naturally.
Moreover, the Gibbses’ script has some notable flaws in it and I believe it needs some reworking. The biggest flaw is the tendency to tell the audience about characters’ traits, instead of letting those traits manifest themselves through the characters’ actions. For example, several times in the dialogue the audience is told that Prince Philip wants to pass up the throne so that he could be a jester. But never in the evening is he shown juggling, tumbling, or telling jokes; as the audience, we’re just asked to have faith that Philip is an entertainer. Similarly, Cyril is repeatedly referred to as being “evil,” but the mere desire for power doesn’t make someone evil. If there were a scene in which Cyril delighted in killing or torturing a servant, then it would make his villainy much more believable. I also think that the role of Simone—while interesting—was unnecessary and that either the role needs to be eliminated (preferable, despite Chelsea Sloan’s fine performance) or greatly expanded so that her existence can be justified. Finally, I was never sure whether the play was aimed at adults (who really don’t need this message) or children (for whom some of the vocabulary may be too difficult).
Technically, I was impressed with the quality of this amateur production. I thought that the costumes were wonderful. The nobles’ costumes were gorgeous and layered with shiny cloth and elegant trim. The commoners’ costumes were appropriately plainer, but were still nice to look at while still being functional. (No designer was credited, but Annie Fields, Julee King, Chelsea Sloan, Melissa Memmott, Becky Gardner, and Elise Hintze were credited as being on the costume crew.) I also thought that the sound (from Danielle Wilson and Erik Nielsen) was superb and that the subtle amplification was enough to make everyone clearly heard and yet had no pops or crackles. The music selections were also appropriate and helped amplify the emotion of each scene and I never found them distracting. I also thought that the lighting (again, from Wilson and Nielsen) was excellent for the venue and that it did not distract from the story.
Overall, I had a nice time attending Knight for a Day. It wasn’t a perfect show, but it was good. More importantly, it was sincere. I truly feel that the directors and actors were sending me a message that they all believed. If one of the purposes of community theatre is to give voice to locally important ideas, then Knight for a Day was a success.