Fringe 2009: Review—”The Rise of General Arthur,” Five stars

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by Matthew A. Everett | 8/4/09 •

A Place Where Dreams and Legends Are Born

“It’s got a price”

Maximum Verbosity

The Rise of General Arthur

Maximum Verbosity and its often one-man-band leader phillip andrew bennett low are returning favorites not only of mine but also of Mom’s, who had them on her “List of Demands” for shows to see this Fringe. Just like each Fringe production before, The Rise of General Arthur is completely unlike any other Verbosity offering.

single white fringe geek is the blog of matthew a. everett. in addition to being one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet, he blogs throughout the year about theater and culture.

Oh yes, there’s the ongoing obsession with the legend of King Arthur. There’s the great love of (and use of) language to paint pictures and weave the tale, with little else in the way of props or set to clutter the stage landscape. There’s the ever-present music stand, to remind us that the words, after all, are the point.

But here in The Rise of General Arthur, we have a use of costume (army issue camouflage), weaponry (sword), accents (southern and otherwise), and performance that we haven’t seen before.

Arthur is almost an afterthought. Pellinore is our primary heroic figure, stumbling as best he can through an adventure over which he has far less control that he’d imagined would be the case. Merlin, as always, appears as a supporting player and threatens to hijack the narrative, just because he’s so damn fun as a character (both for performer and audience alike). But since he’s a good writer in control of his story, low keeps the wizard in his proper place.

low has memorized far more of his text than any of his previous solo outings. His use of the music stand is more prop, than crutch or home base – a signifier of the kind of journey we’re on, rather than a map he constantly refers to in order to guide him. low is acting far more, and far more effectively, than he has in previous productions. There are a handful of characters, all clearly defined, and none of whom, even the narrator, is a stand-in for himself. This isn’t sketch comedy, or confessional autobiography. It’s a military drama with hints of laughter around the edges.

low can’t even help tweaking his own earnestness, or his plot structure. Late in the narrative, after a series of prophetic dreams from each of the other characters, a new character is introduced, and soon Pellinore is asking,

“You didn’t have a dream, did you? And if you did, I don’t suppose there’s any way I could keep you from telling me about it, is there?”

This is a production that rises and falls on the effectiveness of the words, and the performer who speaks them. low knows this story well, and loves it well. He wants to do it justice, so he upped his game this year to do so. I wasn’t sure in reading earlier drafts of this script how this kind of dense text could work onstage. But low has rewritten and recrafted it into a sleak, compelling story – a story of honor, and mission, and loyalty, and a quest that always seems to lead the hero onward, to the next adventure. It’s a great piece of work, both on the page and in performance. And even though I have no idea what it may look like, I’m already looking forward to the next adventure. For now, though, see this.

Very Highly Recommended

His website – www.maximumverbosityonline.org

His show page

Fringe 2009 – 5:30 Saturday – show #12

Matthew A. Everett is a local playwright and three-time recipient of grant support from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Information on Matthew and his plays can be found at matthewaeverett.com.

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