Liba Vaynberg’s new play asks the burning question: “Do you LARP?” Lest you think it is some obscure sexual practice, it is an acronym for Live Action Role Playing. Hero Zach, a medieval scholar, college professor and historical consultant, is into this as a hobby. He also writes scripts for the hit show, Round Table (shades of Game of Thrones), presumably about King Arthur and his knights: a TV show or online series, we never know. However, Zach has another secret although he is just as reticent about his LARPing and working on Round Table.
In the play’s LARPing sequences which alternate between the domestic scenes, we meet Morgan (Arthur’s half-sister), Mordred (Arthur’s half-son and half–brother), Sir Tristan, the elderly Magician Merlin as well as King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere. The play, however, assumes that the audience has a good deal of knowledge about the Arthurian romances to keep all these relationships straight. Possibly that might all be sorted out in a movie version with sets to match but on stage this is quite a lot to keep in mind.
The problem with Vaynberg’s play, now being given its Off Broadway premiere, in which she plays the lead female role, is that it has so many interlocking plots that it can give you a headache trying to keep them straight. And as all of the actors play two – five roles it is difficult to always know who is who. While director Geordie Broadwater keeps the pace zipping along, this often makes it more of a strain to follow the convoluted plotting. Plus the extensive quoting from Tennyson’s Arthurian narrative poem, Idylls of the King (not identified until late in the play) doesn’t help a bit.
Although in the first line of the play, Zach tells us that he has a rare, unnamed disease (think Violetta in La Traviata), we don’t realize that he isn’t kidding but is staring at an imminent death sentence. When he meets Laura, a romance writer who ghostwrites for a famous author, with his first online dating, he doesn’t tell her either of his secrets. He eventually reveals that he plays King Arthur in the LARPing scenarios. But then she wants to join in and is assigned Guinevere but is totally unprepared. However, Zach s brother Kay (same name as Arthur’s foster brother, another parallel or coincidence?) who is his emergency medical contact doesn’t think dating and not telling the woman about his condition is fair.
Complicating the plot is that each of the characters speaks directly to the audience at some point with a monologue which does not explain much but only adds additional levels of obscurity. And worst of all, the actor playing Zach also plays Tristan, Merlin, and Giles as well as Arthur: is that how LARping is done or does the production using a cast of five not have enough actors to appear in all these roles? Your guess is as good as mine. We also meet some of the LARPers in their private lives: Morgan/Lena is a bartender and Mordred/Jeff is a tax attorney, more information to assimilate.
While the pace of this self-named “romantic comedy” is lively, the acting is one-dimensional: Craig Wesley Divino is cagey and coy as Zach, Vaynberg’s Laura is confused, Karl Gregory as brother Kay is exasperated, Sharina Martin as Morgan and Lena, the bartender, is angry, and Mathew Bovee as Mordred and Jeff, the tax accountant, seems out of control. While the unit set by Izmir Ickbal is serviceable for this multi-scened play, it is totally devoid of atmosphere. Part of the slack is picked up by Johanna Pan’s combination of historic and contemporary clothes. Cha See’s lighting always telegraphs scene changes but offers no mood of its own.
Liba Vaynberg’s Round Table has an interesting premise but attempts to cover too many themes and story lines. Not only does the structure of the play with all its coy secrets confuse, it assumes a great deal of knowledge about medieval times which most theatergoers won’t have. The play set in two time periods could use a more elaborate production design to help with the multiple plots. The stated theme of “pretending to be what you are” gets lost among the many other plot strands. Ultimately, the love story seems like simply a device to impart information to a stranger. A pity as individual scenes are well-written. In its current form, Round Table is only good for a headache while it goes round and round.
Round Table (through October 20, 2019)
Fault Line Theatre and Anna & Kitty, Inc.
Theater C, 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-892-7999 or visit http://www.59E59.org
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission