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THEATER REVIEW Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Rock 'n' Rock Musical
by James R. Wilke
2017-12-13

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Book by: John C. Ashton. Music and lyrics by: Foreigner, Scorpions, Great White and more

At: Raven Theatre Complex, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: greenknight.brownpapertickets.com; $25

Runs through: Dec. 17

At a monastery in 14th-century medieval England, an unknown author sat down to pen an epic poem. Luckily, the romantic manuscript survived the ages and is now known as one of the best loved Arthurian stories, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It has been adapted to film, television, theatrical plays, even an opera, and is now set for the first time in this Pearl Poet Productions world premiere as a rock 'n' roll musical by Chicago native John C. Ashton.

The play opens during the Christmastime celebrations at the court of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, played by Noah Berman and Lily Cox. Festivities are interrupted, however, when a mysterious Green Knight ( Jack Wright ) intrudes and challenges any knight to only one axe stroke to fell him. Yet the brave knight must meet him at his Green Chapel in one-year's time to receive one axe stroke in return. Sir Gawain ( Chris Causer ) takes up the challenge, not realizing that the Green Knight is enchanted and cannot be killed. Thus, an epic adventure begins.

Chris Causer carries the show as a charismatic, convincing Sir Gawain. Jack Wright offers an imposing Green Knight. And Gregory Dodds and Caroline Kidwell, as the jovial sportsman Lord Bertilak and his affair-hunting wife Lady Grey, weave a saucy bit of romantic intrigue into the plot, including a provocative wager whereby Sir Gawain must pass along to Lord Bertilak the kisses bestowed upon himself by Lady Grey. ( Yes, there were homoerotic elements to the original poem. ) The surrounding ensemble of actors also give heartfelt performances.

Yet as steadfast and constant as this story's title character is, these virtues seemed ill-attended by the show's playwright and director. Sadly, this production is woefully inconsistent, though to no fault of the performers. Slated as a rock musical, a-cappella traditional English songs and Gregorian chant seem out of place with the electronic accompanied rock songs. And the vocalists need microphones for an honest rock sound, yet have none. The blocking and lighting feel clunky and ineffective, not taking advantage of the large stage. Also, costumes lack consistency and quality. And the dialogue at times feels stilted and difficult to follow, as if Ashton had tried to lift directly from the original poem rather than modernize and make the words his own.

As a world-premiere rock 'n' roll musical, Sir Gawain still has much to do to make this medieval tale relevant to a 2017 audience. Will it succeed and live on? Or will the closing curtain of this present production deal it a final death blow? Only time and perseverance will tell.


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