Wild, Wacky Python Wit A Hit In 'Spamalot'

It’s always nice to have a hit on your hands.

That’s what original Monty Python member Eric Idle discovered soon after the 2005 Broadway opening of his musical comedy “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

That also is what the majority of theater groups — professional and amateur — discover soon after the openings of their productions.

Elkhart Civic Theatre is no different. “Spamalot,” based on the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” opened Nov. 8 in the Bristol Opera House. Initially scheduled for seven performances, an eighth was added before opening and a ninth, immediately after.

Monty Python's Spamalot Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThere is no doubt that early response was from Python fans. The wildly off-center humor of the original six Pythons and their wacky adjunct players has a great appeal, especially to those who have followed the group since its inception in the mid 1970s. It can, however, touch the funny bone of anyone totally unaware of Monty Python.

“Spamalot” doesn’t waste a minute. The pre-show speech is the recorded voice of Python John Cleese who urges audience members to “let your cellphones and pagers ring willy-nilly.” The tone is set and goes onward and upward from there as the curtain opens to find villagers in Finland (?) dancing and singing “The (literally) Fisch Slapping Song.”

Jolted back to medieval England, the plot (???) follows King Arthur (Rick Nymeyer) and his faithful squire Patsy (John Shoup) on their quest to recruit knights for Arthur’s proposed round table.

Before they reach Camelot (by way of Las Vegas), Arthur has been joined by Sir Lancelot (Geoff Trowbridge), Sir Robin (Robert Windsor), Sir Galahad (Deron Bergstresser) and Sir Bedevere (Brent Graber) as well as a strange conglomeration of passers-by, friendly and not-so. Among the former is the Lady of the Lake (Adrienne Nesbitt), a diva for the Middle Ages.

Monty Python's Spamalot Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe high-spirited ensemble numbers choreographed by Jackiejo Brewers and delivered enthusiastically by members of the Ladies and Knights Dance Ensembles, definitely are high spots in the show. The women become Laker Girls, Camelot Dancers (a la Vegas), Grail Girls and French Citizens. The men portray French Guards and Knights. All are Bodies, Villagers and anything else that springs up along the way to Camelot.

Zach Rivers becomes a quartet of characters — an Historian/Not Dead Fred (a plague victim who refuses to stay on the cart)/a Minstrel and Prince Herbert, who gives a new twist to the prisoner in the tower. In probably the only non-singing role, Tim Yoder earns non-stop laughter as characters well known to Python fans — the French Taunter, the Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter.

Monty Pytho's Spamalot Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INOpening night audience members could be heard humming (or singing along) with Patsy as he bolstered up the sagging spirits of the king with the show’s most familiar song “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.” Bergstrasser and Nesbitt went on and on in “The Song That Goes Like This,” a tribute (?) to Andrew Lloyd Webber, while Windsor led the ensemble in the cautionary tale “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.”

Under the direction of percussionist Mark Swendsen, the talented eight-member orchestra did an excellent job with the score by Idle and John Du Prez. It was a pleasure to listen to them, whether supporting the singers or instrumental only.

Shoup’s set design easily morphs into many locations including castles, a forest and a casino. Especially impressive was the giant Trojan Rabbit, not to be confused with the deadly Killer Rabbit which appeared later. Linda Wiesinger served as costume coordinator for the many outfits required, most of which were as period appropriate as possible. The animation and sound effects well integrated throughout the show are credited to Brian MacGowan and Gary Cobbum, with light design by Randy Zonker.

Under the direction of Penny Meyers and assistant director Annette Kaczanowski, “Spamalot” obviously is living up to the expectations of long-time Monty Python fans and making a lot of new fans all eager to “Find Your Grail.”

”MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT” plays through Nov. 24 in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula Street. There are waiting lists for the sold out performances and may be a few seats left for the recently-added Nov. 22. For information, call 848-4116 or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org

Maintaining Mendacity No Easy Task

Ever since George Washington ‘fessed up to chopping down that cherry tree, the path to a good — and successful ­— life has been paved with honesty.

It’s unfortunate how things change.

That path is now strewn with pitfalls, primarily those created by lies, anywhere from the unwittingly innocent fibs of childhood to the frequently intentional whoppers of adulthood. No matter how well-intentioned, there is no doubt that a lie of any dimension will return to bite the teller in the proverbial backside. And that, too often, can be deadly.

The question facing scientist Walter Kreutzer (Ted Manier) the increasingly uncertain protagonist of Jeffrey Wells play “Perfect Mendacity,” which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Studio Theatre, is not whether or not to lie but how to lie without getting caught. The latter is a tricky procedure especially since Walter is facing a corporate polygraph test.

Perfect Mendacity  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAlthough written in 2008, Wells’ tale was eerily prophetic, considering the now-international focus on the revelation of secrets by computer hackers who seemingly delight in uncovering heretofore untouchable governmental machinations.

The SBCT production is played on an excellent set designed by the group’s emerging scenic ace Jacee Rohlck who has managed to create four definitely separate locations in the limited space without the use of solid walls.

The quintet of players handles the mass of Wells dialogue well if, at times, a bit methodically. Manier especially takes his emotional level from hesitant to frantic as his efforts to resolve the consequences of his actions seem destined to fall apart. His frustration and increasing desperation are palpable.

At his initial session with D’Avore Peoples (David Smith), whose stock in trade is preparing people to pass a polygraph (aka lie detector) test, Walter begins to realize that more than his current descent into mendacity will come to light.

His unraveling begins. During this unraveling, the audience is faced with a number of questions.

Perfect Mendacity  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreDid the microbiologist himself leak the memo of his company’s sale of a biological weapon to a middle-eastern government or did he set up his Moroccan wife Samira (Tia Patrick) as the informant? Was she an unknowing dupe or a knowing participant? Who among his corporate cohorts can be trusted? Given the weapon’s enormous potential for destruction, was he a hero or a traitor? If truly the former, why be so afraid of corporate discovery and why does he eventually loose everything?

Obviously, the “good guys” don’t always win.

Under the direction of Jim Geisel, the action moves along smoothly if sometimes monochromatically. The aim is to let Walter loose his head while all around him are hanging on to theirs. Tom Peterson as his co-worker Roger Stanhope gives a slick portrayal of an ambiguous corporate officer while Judy Spigle, saved for the final scene, is a deliciously devilish doctor who kicks the energy level up many decibel levels.

If corporate espionage is all to common today, showing its effect on a perpetrator who suffers real pangs of remorse may be the most perfect mendacity of all.

”PERFECT MENDACITY” plays today through Sunday in the SBCT Warner Studio Theatre at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.