Theater & Arts

Theater review: 'Monty Python's Spamalot'

Hey. You there, audience member. I want you to listen very closely to what I'm going to say.

Your mother was a hamster.

Now let's gauge your reaction. Did you:

1) Immediately turn to the person nearest you -- whether good friend or total stranger -- and without hesitation, as if by Pavlovian response, blurt out "and your father smelt of elderberries"?

2) Offer a quizzical but hearty laugh, a little lost as to the context of the line but willing to extend your comic goodwill to such an offbeat non sequitur?

3) Listen with stone-faced bewilderment, trying to grasp at anything -- anything! -- remotely funny about someone declaring that the woman who bore you was a Eurasian rodent with large cheek pouches and a short tail -- but finding yourself unable to cough up anything but a desultory chuckle?

If you're in the first camp, you'll likely react to the zany and well-done new Good Company Players production of "Monty Python's Spamalot" like a starving dieter granted permission to tear into a lemon meringue pie. If you fall into the second category, I'm guessing you'll be happy to hop aboard and raft the comic white waters of this very silly and engaging musical.

And if you just don't get the whole Monty Python phenomenon -- and you don't want to get it -- you might, like the famed Black Knight, rather have your limbs chopped off one by one than subject yourself to an evening featuring some of the most famous bits of the Python legacy.

This GCP local premiere, which continues through March 17 at Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater, is amiable and smartly staged. Perhaps the greatest thing going for it is the intimacy of the space. Sure, some of the famous sight gags have to be scaled back. But director Laurie Pessano and scenic designer David Pierce came up with some ingenious ways to deliver the visual moments that any self-respecting Python fan would demand. The creative team might not have a way to toss a cow 50 feet off a castle turret. But the cow still flies, never fear.

For the uninitiated, "Monty Python's Spamalot" is loosely based on the British comedy troupe's best-loved movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." We're plunged into the merry quest of King Arthur (a rousing Chris Carsten) and the quest he's given by the ethereal Lady of the Lake (Emily Pessano in wonderful comic form). As he bumbles along with his personal valet, Patsy (a well-played Steve Souza, who obligingly claps coconuts together to imitate a horse's hooves, a motif from the movie re-enacted to this day by many children in our own realm), Arthur gathers together his knights of the Round Table. With detours along the way to such spots as Camelot, which looks a lot like Las Vegas, and the forest of the Knights of Ni, the gags come at a rapid clip.

The GCP cast has some great vocal and acting moments. Highlights include Carsten's first-rate Arthur, Emily Pessano's wry Lady of the Lake, Greg Grannis' over-the-top Sir Robin, Daniel Hernandez's deadpan-slash-fizzy Lancelot and Brandon Delsid's hilarious Not Dead Fred. Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed's costume design is outstanding as it ranges from destitute peasants and sturdy knights to Las Vegas-style glitz.

This "Spamalot" is to be commended for advancing Good Company's use of projected animation, which is obviously an ongoing theatrical trend. Dominic Grijalva's animation design pays homage to the Python style while offering some creative jolts of his own.

Overall, it's a very complicated show with numerous settings and lots of deft technical timing required. The opening night performance was not the smoothest GCP production I've seen in terms of technical issues. There were some lighting glitches and sound issues with the balance between singers and the recorded track. (I know, for example, that Emily Pessano's voice can fill the Roger Rocka's space with a lot more gusto than it did in the version I heard of "The Song That Goes Like This.") Jennifer Sullivan's lighting design is mostly effective, but transitions between animation and live action needed to be slicker, and I was mystified by the murkiness of the crucial Black Knight scene. Also, the cast seemed a bit tentative on the complicated blocking of such big numbers as "The Knights of the Round Table." But I'm convinced these were early jitters.

When it comes to my biggest laughs, on opening night there was one big personal surprise for me, which was a lot of fun. But for sheer excellent lunacy, I have to go with the head French Taunter (a sublime Tyler Branco, a GCP veteran who gets a standout, breakthrough moment in this show.) He's just so, well, French. Go ahead. Call my mom a hamster. I'm still laughing.


Theater review

"Monty Python's Spamalot," through March 17, Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave. gcplayers.com, (559) 266-9494. $29-$49

Read an extended review at fresnobeehive.com

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