Comedy Two-Knight! Kenneth Lonergan's Medieval Play Opens June 7 in World Premiere

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07 Jun 2012

Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton
Joan Marcus

Kenneth Lonergan, the American playwright acclaimed for creating modern men who haplessly search for a sense of purpose, has drawn another character in this tradition — but set him in 14th-century Europe — in Medieval Play, opening June 7 in a world-premiere staging by Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company.

Josh Hamilton plays Sir Ralph, a knight who rapes and pillages — and neurotically questions why he does so, using 21st-century idioms and language. The play's setting and dryly comic tone mark a break from the tradition of Lonergan, whose small-cast plays This Is Our Youth, Lobby Hero, The Starry Messenger (and the screenplays "You Can Count On Me" and "Margaret") have had the aching, naturalistic feel of short stories by J.D. Salinger. Medieval Play, directed by Lonergan, is the playwright channeling Larry David, Woody Allen and "Saturday Night Live."

Sir Ralph's comrade-in-armor is Sir Alfred, played by Tate Donovan (a veteran of Lobby Hero). Together, they encounter a slew of medieval characters, including real clerics (Pope Clement VII, anyone?), villagers, pilgrims, monks, Catherine of Siena and many more — even Death gets a cameo. Walt Spangler created the storybook setting, at turns artificial (with flat cut-outs of castles in the background) and sumptuous (a dining table festooned with a 1370s feast in the foreground). It's easy to see in the broad Medieval Play that the playwright is out to skewer modern behavior and question our ability to be civil.

Previews began May 15 at The Irene Diamond Stage in The Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street. Lonergan is one in a pool of playwrights creating new works for Signature in its Residency Five program of world premieres.

John Pankow
photo by Joan Marcus

Signature bills Medieval Play this way: "Two French mercenary knights set out on a quest for relative moral redemption against the classic comic background of late 14th-century ecclesiastical politics. A story of friendship, love, noble feats of arms, indiscriminate brutality, the progressive refinement of medieval table manners and the general decline of the chivalric ideal at the onset of the Great Papal Schism of 1378."



The ensemble cast also includes John Pankow, Anthony Arkin, Heather Burns, Halley Feiffer, Kevin Geer and C.J. Wilson.

In addition to Spangler, the design team includes Michael Krass (costume design), Jason Lyons (lighting design), David Van Tieghem (sound design) and J. David Brimmer (fight direction). The production stage manager is David H. Lurie.

Medieval Play is the second work in Signature's new Residency Five program that premieres new plays by members of a resident ensemble of playwrights (part of a three-pronged mission at Signature). Katori Hall's Hurt Village was the inaugural Residency Five work earlier this year.

Arkin is known for Broadway's I'm Not Rappaport and Off-Broadway's The Waverly Gallery, Burns appeared in Middletown and Lobby Hero Off-Broadway, Donovan starred in Broadway's Good People and Off-Broadway's Lobby Hero, Geer was in Broadway's Side Man and Twelve Angry Men, Hamilton's credits include The Coast of Utopia for Lincoln Center Theater and CSC's The Cherry Orchard (as well as Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery and This Is Our Youth Off-Broadway), and Pankow was seen in Off-Broadway's Equivocation and the TV series "Mad About You."

Tickets for Medieval Play are on sale at the Signature Theatre Box Office at (212) 244-7529 and at signaturetheatre.org.