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Who Would Be King

What seems at first to be a silly kiddy show soon reveals itself to be be a tragic, complex tale of pride, resentment and warfare.

Jesse Garlick, Rachel Wiese, Rebecca Lehrhoff, Glen Moore and Veronica Barron in a scene from Liars & Believers’ “Who Would Be King” (Photo credit: Christopher McIntosh)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The Cambridge, Massachusetts based Liars & Believers (LAB) company has brought Who Would Be King to New York, part of Ars Nova’s Fling Series.  The troupe brings enthusiasm and high spirits that fill Ars Nova (famous for helping to nurture Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 into being).

As the cute, folksy antics of the opening scenes morph into a complex and tragic tale of a father warring against his (usurper) son and a young vigorous David figure (slingshot included) threatening the failing wisdom of an aging regent, the audience is drawn magically into this allegory that is a tragic tale of Biblical dimensions—with a touch of Greek hubris tossed into the mix—in the guise of a kiddy clown show (bulbous red noses included).

Clad in outfits straight out of the rustic branch of the school of Godspell (designed by Kendra Bell), a cast of only five, plus a wonderfully folksy singer (Jay Mobley, the aural backbone of King and the writer of the songs), race around like characters from Sesame Street, if Sesame Street had taken place in one thousand B.C., enhanced by Marc Ewart’s strange, ancient feeling set of colorful bits of cloth hanging off a wall-full of loose rope netting.

Rachel Wiese and Jesse Garlick in a scene from Liars & Believers’ “Who Would Be King” (Photo credit: Christopher McIntosh)

Written by the LAB members, King begins with some high jinks involving worshiping stuffed chickens causing Sam (Rebecca Lehrhoff) and Agnes (Rachel Wiese) much grief as they realize that they need to find a king.  After even more tomfoolery, they convince Saul (Glen Moore) to be crowned king.  What begins with a celebratory parade through the theater soon takes on darker colors with wars against enemies, defeats and many ups and downs.

Saul’s son, Jonny (Jesse Garlick) joins his dad, making suggestions that irritate more than help, leading to a rift.  Adding to Saul’s woes is the appearance of D who playfully battles with Jonny, encouraged in a most un-fatherly way by Saul.

Saul’s wary jealousy of both Jonny and D leads to much changing of allegiances and tragedy for all, including a populace that is suffering from lack of food and a surfeit of speeches.  This cartoony fictional land is left bereft, despite the desperate efforts of Sam and Agnes, due to Saul’s inability free himself from his prideful behavior and act on his people’s desires and needs.

Glen Moore, Veronica Barron, and Jesse Garlick in a scene from Liars & Believers’ “Who Would Be King” (Photo credit: Christopher McIntosh)

Despite the comic, vaudevillian flavor of Who Would Be King, the message of pride coming before the fall is expressed with grace and colorful theatrics.

Jason Slavick’s direction keeps the cast rollicking along, taking advantage of every inch of Ars Nova.  He is helped by an energetic cast, all on the same wavelength, giving their physical and emotional all.  Silly at times, yes; but ultimately dark and meaningful.

Who Would Be King (through April 1, 2017)

Liars & Believers (LAB)

Ars Nova Fling

Theater 511, 511 West 54th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/967389

For more information, visit http://www.LiarsAndBelievers.com

Running time:  90 minutes without an intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (205 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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