At its core there is an intimate buddy story buried in Tim Erickson's The Honor of Thomas Becket. Erickson, whose script was freely inspired by Jean Anouilh's Becket, ou L'Honneur de Dieu, T.S. Elliot's Murder in the Cathedral, and various historical documents, attempted to give a "warts and all" point of view to the friendship and love between the protagonists, the saintly Thomas Becket, and the less-than godlike Henry II of England. But his meandering and flabby adaptation betrayed its multiple origins, and the potentially riveting central story gets lost in a quagmire of confusing historical detail and an excess of uninteresting characters.
This confusion was exacerbated by Beatriz Eliza's non-period-specific black costuming - only Becket and Henry were differentiated by wearing different colored tunics over their black jeans. Every other male member of the large ensemble wore the same outfit over the course of the three-hour evening; the women at least could change their hairstyles. (Cheesy party-store crowns didn't help, either.)
Still, there were moments of astonishing clarity that pointed to what the work could be with some judicious pruning, particularly a scene late in the second act between Becket (Alan Jestice) and the French King Louis (Peter Morr) that sparked with an energy missing up to that point. And Erickson the director captured the brutality of life in the 12th century and painted gorgeous stage pictures throughout. Marisa Lowenstein's set, consisting of sky-blue walls, green floor, and simple black furniture and drapes, the aforementioned black costuming and Daniel Ordower's cold blue lighting all worked to set off Erickson's cleanly realized blocking, making the production visually arresting, if not altogether compelling.
With such a large schism between the visual aspects of the production and the emotional, the enormous cast - led by the hardworking Jestice and the jovial if loud Victor M. Treviño as Henry - had little to do but recite (and oftentimes stumble over) their lines with all the proper facial expressions but without any apparent connection to the material, the period, or even each other. Without any internal life driving the actors, the evening quickly became about a barrage of words that meant very little at all to anyone, least of all the audience.
It is hoped that Erickson the writer will continue to work on his adaptation and focus on the main story of love and betrayal in a time of political intrigue (is there ever any other time?) and jettison everything else. Then he may have a work whose power matches its potential. But as it currently stands, The Honor of Thomas Becket was well-intentioned but boring. And ohhhh, soooo long.
(Also featuring: Brian Bartley, Mac Brydon, Alison Caldwell, Philip J. Emeott, Michael Hardart, Derek G.C. Hirons, William Laney, Kate Ross, Karen Sweeney, Matt Weser.)
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita