I always do my crossword puzzles in pencil. I want the opportunity to erase the words that don't fit. With a little more time and luck, I'll eventually get to inscribe the correct answers.
Henry Rathvon, one of the country's most famous cruciverbalists (crossword puzzle creators), obviously understands this dynamic. He has penciled his first play, Trapezium A Knightly Farce, in such an equivocal fashion that he allows himself the liberty of erasing whole sections of it and starting over each time one of his characters discovers that the storyline is overrunning the available spaces on the "puzzleboard."
Now enjoying its world premiere at the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's Margeson Theater, Trapezium gets its name from a four-sided form with no parallel sides. True to the title, the play is told from four distinctly separate points of view; as each plotline stumbles into an unsatisfactory trajectory, the next character in line begins it again. From any perspective, though, the play remains a zany, verbally precocious retelling of the medieval romantic legend of Tristan and Iseult. In the hands of director Russell Treyz and a quintet of ferociously funny performers, all of the tale's bawdiness, treachery, violence and superstition become fodder for some of the "noggincrackingest" physical and vocal comedy ever to grace a modern stage.
The play is written completely in iambic pentameter, the classic poetic form that Shakespeare used to move his language along. But Rathvon is not content to merely follow in the master's footsteps. In Trapezium, he has ratcheted up the speed of the verbiage tenfold, added a gaggle of made-up words, thrown in a contemporary sensibility and scheduled a Monty Python moment every 20 seconds. The result is less like Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and more like Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur on steroids. ("Say, did you know that there is no point … to a Round Table?" Nyuk, nyuk!)
Again performed by the same troupe of thespians who workshopped the piece at the 2003 PlayFest new-play festival, Trapezium has become something akin to the Keystone Kops meeting the Sunday New York Times. Kristian Truelsen reigns once more as King Mark, the "large, lumpy, unwashed" Cornwall sovereign whose claim to fame is constantly hunting down all manner of mythical savage beasts smiladons, piscapods and the odd spitting basilisk while forbidding swordplay in the castle, lest the palace drapes become askew. Mindy Anders plays Iseult, Mark's down-to-earth and somewhat cynical new bride. Because she supposedly swallowed a magic potion en route from Ireland to her connubial destiny, Iseult falls in love with David Hardie's Tristan, a rather bumbling knight whose allegiance to the medieval virtues of truth and chivalry largely depends on the strength and efficacy of his horse's withers.
Also in the cast is Heather Leonardi as Bridget, a saucy Irish wench and servant to Iseult. It is through her connivance and chicanery that the two star-crossed lovers manage their clandestine affair that is, in at least one version of the story. Leonardi uses her saucer-shaped eyes and kewpie-doll looks to great comedic advantage, masking her character's innate, manipulative intelligence until the play's final moments.
Most enjoyable throughout the evening's romp is the remarkably plastic Jason Flora as Mullet, a foppish villain whose tongue is always aflame with "spicy slander" and "irksome tidings" of "dark and treasonous alliances." As each version of the story is presented, Flora becomes more and more pixyish and bizarre, garnering the show's heartiest laughter.
Trapezium is a marvelously funny play that blends its virtuosic verbal nimbleness with a frolicsome theatricality. Its characters are lovable and charmingly idiosyncratic. Apparently, playwright Rathvon has begun a new and promising career, trading in the cryptograms for the limelight and applause. I enjoyed his maiden venture as much as I did last Sunday's crossword which I did in pencil.