There are two kinds of live theatre presentations we go see. The first is a play we’ve never seen before. We are going to experience the story. We don’t know how it ends, we haven’t heard the jokes, and the songs are still unknown. The second is a play that we’ve seen done and redone, and the point of the experience is to see how it’s presented. We go to admire the singing and dancing, the acting, and the set design.
Obviously, Camelot falls into the second category. Anybody who doesn’t already know the story is either very, very young or has been living in another dimension. Even the aliens who live on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti know the Arthurian Legends. The themes in the play are timeless, and community theatres will be presenting the story even after we’ve evolved into something else.
The Pacifica Spindrift Players is a community troupe of entertainers in Pacifica, California. We have experienced some wonderful plays there, two of which leap immediately to mind are Cry Havoc, a story about nurses in the Pacific Theater of US Army during World War II, and Sylvia, which brought a tear to the eye of every dog lover in the audience. (Cat lovers are an alien species to me, so I can’t vouch for them.) Sylvia, to my mind, did not get near the ovation it deserved.
Back to Camelot. In a nutshell: The singing by Chris Olson (who looked like he was born for the role of Arthur), Michele Choe and Greg Frediani was wonderful. The acting was satisfactory. The dancing was — well, there was dancing. The set design was minimalist.
Let’s talk about this set design business. I know it’s difficult to pull off great set designs on small stages. But to simply blow it off by giving us two stone walls and two halves of trees was disappointing. And there was this gigantic projection screen in the back that kept promising to do something, but it was only used as a psychedelic backdrop for the Nimuë scene. Seemed to me like it could have been used far more effectively. Having this huge white thing in center stage rear for the entire play was distracting to say the least.
I believe that the minimalist set design and staging was intended to focus the audience’s attention on the actors, but that could have been accomplished with a little more art in the set. Especially in the scene in Guenevere’s bedroom when she sang her solo, I Loved You Once in Silence. Lancelot stood like a statue for three minutes during this song. Yes, the audience’s attention was focused on Guenevere, but that could have been accomplished without making Lancelot look like he was paralyzed by Medusa.
My recommendation on this presentation is to buy the CD for the singing, but the trip to Pacifica to see the presentation isn’t worth the price of the gasoline. Going to a reading of the play would have been as satisfactory.