Smile Politely

Does this taste funny to you?

I imagine the Parkland College Department of Fine and Applied Arts’ recent production of Monty Python’s Spamalot to be like eating a well prepared Spam dinner. There are tantalizing notes in the taste, and some might find it delicious throughout. For me, though, the taste becomes less novel as the meal continues and chewing it becomes a chore. The best-prepared Spam dinner, after all, is still Spam. The final bite may give some a sense of satisfaction; others might feel obligated, seeing as how the meal was prepared and set in front of them in the first place. The meal is filling and has its savory moments, but you may suspect it will be forgotten by dessert.

Monty Python’s Spamalot, “A new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” is a rich retelling of the film, maintaining the famed comedy group’s sly, absurd sense of humor. Python fans can rejoice as silliness comes to life before them through campy song and dance.

This production, directed by Dallas Street, has a lot going for it from the get-go. First off, it features a brilliant, silly ensemble energy throughout the show’s company numbers, and its big, fun cast nicely compliments the flashy spectacle. They shine particularly bright with the lofty “Knights of the Round Table” and “His Name is Lancelot” moments. (And the pit orchestra should receive a shout-out here as their resonant sound and force vibrantly underscore Spamalot’s action.) Choreographers Street and Whitney Havice work ably with their actors’ varying skill levels. Moving company bodies fill the space effortlessly, and their vocal power fills the large room. As an added bonus (and a nod to the original film), many of the ensemble members act as more than one character, and I commend their adaptability; their enthusiasm propels the show forward.

Street also makes a bold choice to integrate the stage crew directly with the onstage performance as “honorary” ensemble members. In all blacks, the crew appears but never pretends to be a part of the performance, and I loved it. The demure on-stage presence of the crew lent itself to the humor of the show; those familiar with the theatrical cast/crew dynamic would relate. They boldly step out in costume, handle props, and perform bunny puppetry. I appreciated the blatant demonstration of the “bare bones” of the production. This choice worked for me and pulled me out of disbelief at just the right times, just as Spamalot itself tends to do.

This production of Spamalot features several talented players; notable among them are Mike Prosise, Joe Barlow, and Harrison Frank Austin, each of whom commands the audience in his own unique way. Prosise, as (among others) Sir Lancelot, demands attention with his physical presence. His subtle, consistent character choices are believable and hysterical. I was especially impressed with the way Prosise (pictured, above, as the French Taunter) embodies Lancelot’s transformation throughout the show; never once does he compromise the authenticity of his character for the sake of a few laughs. Prosise also plays several secondary characters, each maintained with a similar humor and clever timing. Actor Joe Barlow (pictured below) also charms the crowd with his hilarious, lackadaisical interpretation of Sir Robin. His sarcasm and “sleepy” character choices are displayed from an honest place. Each of these actors distinguishes himself from the other knights with strong choices. Another actor deserving of inclusion here is Harrison Frank Austin, who plays five distinct roles and brings memorable elements to each. I was particularly enamored with his portrayal of Prince Herbert. Austin sets the production’s tone with a natural, unforced humor and soft, effective character choices.

As the show progressed, I found myself feeling… fine. Spamalot’s content is entertaining and is delivered in an entertaining way. Reflecting back on my experience, however, I am swayed toward neither disgust nor brilliance; I am simply… satisfied. The production itself is safe and the entertainment content driven. Repetitious staging and conventional design choices grow stale, but are salvaged by the aforementioned standout actors and strong ensemble. The equilibrium achieved results in a happy audience and a solid production, but a relatively forgettable performance.

Tickets for Spamalot at Parkland Theatre can be reserved online and purchased at the box office. Performances continue on April 25th and 26th, and May 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at 7:30 p.m. There is also a matinee performance on April 27th at 3 p.m.

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photos by Sean O’Connor

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