The Castle

By Howard Barker
Directed by Sean McGlynn and Victoria Berry
Myriad Arts
West End Theatre
263 W. 86th St. (591-0151)
Non-union production (closes June 17)
Review by Julie Halpern

Audience members of The Castle were treated to an eerily beautiful pre-show of New Age medieval music that resounded throughout the Romanesque recesses of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew. The exquisite bare stage with its evocative lighting was imbued with a remarkable spiritual energy. Sadly, the performance itself failed to equal the splendour of the pre-show. Howard Barker's heavy-handed, and interminably lengthy, medieval fantasy was made even more excruciating by the plodding direction of Sean McGlynn and Victoria Berry. They seemed determined to bang away at each essential truth, creating a didactic exercise rather than an evening's entertainment. The situation was even more frustrating considering the high level of acting, even in the smallest roles. These dedicated actors deserved a more worthy vehicle.

The play opens at the end of the Crusades. The knights have returned to their quaint English village to find the town and their women in disarray. Plans to modernize the town with a large castle have been greeted with mixed emotions, and havoc reigns among the dissenting villagers. The physical changes the town is undergoing serve as a metaphor for the personal upheavals each townsperson is undergoing.

Stucley, a knight, is hurt by his wife Ann's sexual escapades during his absence. Ann enjoys the favors of both sexes and shows no sign of slowing down after her husband's return. Her conquests include a beautiful young widow named Skinner, who is later condemned as a witch, and Krak, the mysterious architect of the castle. Krak's family were all brutally murdered during the Crusades, and he has tried to find solace in his work and his relationship with Ann. Vilified by the townspeople, he is determined to bring his project to completion.

Peter Weisenburger was a pompous, yet totally engaging Stucley, undone by his wife's faithlessness but determined that the castle be built. Merritt Minnemeyer was serene and glamorous as the sought-after Ann. Magdalena Abramson gave a bravura performance as the complex, tragic Skinner. Julian Rozzell was riveting as Krak, dominating the stage with his sonorous voice and economy of gesture.

James Elmore and Anthony V. De Luca provided delightful comic cameos as the builders, and James Cairl's doltish servant, Batter, contributed a slapstick levity desperately needed in the ponderous proceedings. Christopher Zaczek was an amiable voice of reason as the put-upon priest, Nailer, and Allison C. E. Mitchell was fascinating as the mentally disturbed villager, Cant.

Barker's concept of the struggle for progress and enlightenment over darkness and ignorance is intriguing. The adventurous ensemble almost pulled it off, but ultimately collapsed under the directorial and dramaturgical weight, resulting in a caged-animal energy, rather than the spontaneity these fine actors needed to bring their work to life.

Magdalena Abramson's simple set was effective in the church setting, and Joel Galand's other-worldly lighting enhanced Julie Fischoff's jewel-toned costumes. The gorgeous music was provided by Jeffrey D. Lee, G. Christian Bucknum, and Daniel Mohr.

With Mark von Sternberg, John Harlacher, Scott Levy, Carolyn Boynton, Joy Fleming, and Lauren Oliva.
Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern