We are given next to no context, but suddenly on stage is a very tall man in a cloak and a helmet made from some very realistic curling ram’s horns, plotting the death of King Arthur aloud like a Bond villain. The audience is giggling. Someone whispers, “I don’t think this is supposed to be funny.” But in this show made for (and, it seems, made by) people who appreciate a good joke about Middle Welsh spelling, it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself a little bit.
So begins this dramedy with some very comedic twists and some pretty tragic turns. Though the medieval opening scene may be a confusing way to enter the story, it’s certainly a compelling one. We soon learn that we’re getting sneak peeks of Round Table, a hit TV show based on the Arthurian legends. It seems to be the parallel-universe equivalent of Game of Thrones in terms of television show success, Internet craze, and fandom.
But the main narrative is not a medieval epic, but a modern love story. We meet our protagonists on a cringeworthy blind date. Zach (Craig Welsey Divino) is medieval literature consultant with two secrets: one that’s extremely nerdy, and one that’s pretty dark. Laura (Liba Vaynberg) is an aspiring writer of the next Great American Novel who pays the bills by ghostwriting bodice-ripping romance novels. As they start to date and become increasingly entangled in each other’s lives. Laura learns that Zach consults on and occasionally writes for Round Table. (“What is Andrew Scott like in real life?” Laura asks Zach, igniting a desire I never knew I had to see The Hot Priest featuring in a Game of Thrones-style epic about King Arthur.) As Zach grows closer to Laura, united by their unique professions and uncommon knowledge, he finally reveals to her his secret passion: LARP, also known as “live action role play.”
Unfortunately for a show that revolves around the relationship between these two people and the secrets they’re willing to share with each other, the romance is the least interesting element of this show. The dialogue the two lovers share feels forced and not really believable. But if you, like myself, were attracted to this show for the Arthurian element, you won’t walk away without having gotten your money’s worth. The Round Table episodes that punctuate the main narrative are genuinely engrossing, and the actors play their respective roles – particularly Sharina Martin as Morgan – with a real and admirable intensity. There is some impressive fight choreography, well-thought-out costumes, and if you’re sitting in the front row, you’re almost in danger of getting whacked with a play sword.
But the absolute scene-stealer was when our lovers, Zach and Laura, attend a LARP session together. Zach, a seasoned and dedicated attendee, comes alive in a crowd of people who take their parts just as seriously as he does. In a brilliant move, actors portraying the Round Table LARP characters are the same actors who portray their much more serious counterparts from the actual (fictional) show. When Matthew Bovee, who plays the ram-horn helmeted Mordred in the Round Table scenes, stepped out in his LARP costume consisting of a felt helmet with tiny felt horns, the audience was in stitches. Laura, a non-LARPer like most of us, serves as our voice of reason, hilariously offsetting the actors’ intensity – impressive as Round Table-ers, but nearing slapstick as LARPers.
Despite the lagging romance at its core, Round Table proves itself capable not just of drama, action, and hilarity, but some genuine emotional twists as well. (A special shoutout to Karl Gregory as Kay, Zach’s brother, for his role in some of the most poignant scenes.) And for self-professed geeks, Game of Thrones diehards, and medieval literature fans, Round Table will certainly live up to any nerdy expectations you may have built up.
- By Liba Vaynberg
- Directed by George Broadwater
- Scenic design: Izmir Ickbal
- Costume design: Johanna Pan
- Cast includes: Matthew Bovee, Craig Wesley Divino, Karl Gregory, Sharina Martin, Liba Vaynberg
- 59E59 Theaters, New York City
- Until 20 October 2019