Review: 'King Stag' remains magical until very end

Perseverance Theatre's latest production filled with wonderful fairy tale moments

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2003

It wasn't until the beginning of the second act of Perseverance Theatre's production of "King Stag" that I realized where the magic lies in this production.

A beautiful, melancholy love song drifts over the stage from the rafters above the set, where a guitarist and two performers stand in full view of the audience. The play's heroine slumps sadly on one of two thrones, creating a scene that reeks of lost love.

But in the corner, below the musicians, a jester sits in the spotlight. Rather, he kneels, with two rubbery looking legs hanging off his cloak, where his chest must be. The look is that of a, well, a shorter jester.

The jester plays air-ukulele to the tune of the guitar, and lip-synchs dramatically to the song coming from the rafters.

The director seems to be sending a message to the audience: there is little joy in the Kingdom of Serendip right now, but no worries - this is a fairy tale, not a tragedy.

This message is magnified when a second, harmonic voice from the rafters joins the first. The lip-synching jester doesn't skip a beat. He mouths the words as if the two voices are his, a scene reminiscent of the throat singers from Tuva who performed in Juneau last spring.

"King Stag" is filled with moments like these. Just as Cinderella had to deal with her wicked stepmother, and Peter Pan had some ugly moments with Captain Hook, the characters in the play have their trials.

But the performers drift effortlessly between poignant scenes of distress and lighter comedic moments. Sometimes the scenes take place simultaneously.

Do I need to explain the story? The magical kingdom is named Serendip - that should say enough. King meets girl and falls in love. King's trusted adviser also loves girl, and uses magic to wreak havoc on the king's happiness. Girl loves king even when king takes the form of a decrepit old man.

True love prevails and everybody except king's trusted adviser is happy.

Even 240 years after it was written, Carlo Gozzi's story can delight audiences of all ages. But the actors bring the magic to Perseverance's stage.

From John Leo's wonderfully over-the-top portrayal of the not-so-wholesome Smeraldina (known to some characters in the play as "Smelly"), to the young-ish Ryan Conarro's convincing depiction of a crippled old man, the actors in this production enchant.

Jake Waid, who plays King Deramo, should be especially commended for his transformation from nice king to evil king in the second act. Although his evil-king voice may have been a little too inspired by the evil Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons," he left no doubt in my mind that the spirit of one person can enter the body of another in the Kingdom of Serendip.

All of the action in the play - hunting, courting, betraying, rescuing - takes place on a relatively simple stage.

Curtains hanging from the ceiling act as curtains, trees and royal banners depending on the scene. A white cloth draped across the stage, gently shaken at both ends, is a stream. When the lights go down and the cast exits at the end of the play, the audience has the sensation of waking from a dream.

The audience's applause at the end of the Friday night production I attended was a little bit quieter than I expected. It's likely due to the anticlimactic final scene, in which two of the characters try to bring a 21st-century moral to the production.

There's no magic left in the world, the magician tells the audience in the few minutes of denouement that take place after an impressively dramatic final scene.

Aw, buck up, his assistant tells him. There's magic in relaxing and eating and drinking with friends. With that, they head off to Louie's.

Ugh. It's the only moment in the play that felt too contrived for me to swallow, and it's unfortunate that the scene is the last one. They're both wrong, as far as I'm concerned.

Kicking back and relaxing with friends is great, but the real magic in Juneau today is in Perseverance's production of "King Stag." I hope to visit the Kingdom of Serendip again before the magical curtain falls.

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