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Theater review: 'Medieval Play' a history in tedium

Clocking in at nearly three hours chock full of frat-boy humor, this show moves slowly and carries big shtick.

With its frat-house humor and a length evoking the Hundred Years' War in which it's set, Kenneth Lonergan's "Medieval Play" at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre proves a rather tedious history lesson. And that's a shame, since it begins with rapier wit as Sir Ralph (Josh Hamilton) and Sir Alfred (Tate Donovan) provide pithy insights into the geopolitical landscape as they philosophize between bouts of raping and pillaging.

What's so funny about the knights' exchange, and what disappears completely 15 minutes later, is the juxtaposition of a modern perspective with a feudal landscape. Their predictions about the demise of agrarian society and the rise of the nation-state are completely anachronistic, and their deadpan delivery of such observations is unexpected and funny.

But by the time Sir Ralph decides to search for an alternative to the meaningless existence of a knight-errant, the play's humor becomes completely generic. Costumes and plot are still firmly rooted in the Middle Ages, with the Avignon papacy moving back to Rome, followed by the Great Papal Schism and a pope in each of France and Italy. But the ironic, time-twisted viewpoint has been replaced by a second-rate "Animal House" sensibility. Instead of a toga party, it's armor and mail, but the crude dialogue and broad sight gags would be equally at home (or not) in any era. If hearing a Saint Catherine of Siena (Heather Burns) drop the F-bomb is your idea of witty repartee, go for it. Otherwise, don't.

'Medieval Play'

Through June 24

Pershing Square Signature Center

480 West 42nd Street

$25, all seats

www.signaturetheatre.org

 
 
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