Monday, August 20, 2012

Perceval Preview

In the spring of 2008, fate happened to place four MFA candidates at the Brown/Trinity Consortium on the same night for their final recital projects. Recognizing a shared aesthetic and desire to continue working together. Thus, founding members Piper Goodeve, Elizabeth King-Hall, Scott Raker and Haas Regen created The Immediate Family, an exciting new company whose work is garnering attention in the notoriously overcrowded New York theatre community. Their inventive new take on a classic legend, Perceval, will play a limited engagement in Providence this Labor Day weekend following a successful run at the inaugural Westchester Square Arts Festival in the Bronx.

While it may be a less well-known bit of Arthuritania, the Perceval legend has long been an inspiration to artists. The story concerns Perceval, a young Knight of the Round Table, who must recover the fabled Holy Grail amidst the interference of a witch in order to heal a fisher king and restore the poisoned kingdom. In spite of the grandiose setting and fantastical characters, the story is essentially about a young man coming of age in the face of a world that is impossibly corrupted. This universal theme has inspired artists as diverse as Erich Rohmer, T.S. Eliot and Richard Wagner.  The Immediate Family and playwright/company member Haas Regen join elite company with their modern take on the Perceval legend. Incorporating elements as diverse as opera and cinema into a thrilling, actor-driven evening of theatre.

Speaking to company member Elizabeth King-Hall reveals a great deal about the group’s process and their ability to tell this story. Her role, the Troubador, was written specifically with her in mind as the performer. She laughs that the character’s theatricality grew out of “voices we’d do when we were drunk.” Such an intimate knowledge of one another’s specific abilities gives the company the flexibility and freedom to create characters tailored to the exact talents of their cast members. The most important aspect of The Immediate Family’s working method is their delineation of authority. While the cast features playwright Regen, King-Hall made it clear that his role as a writer was left outside the rehearsal room: “Oh, the only thing he’d ever remark on was my pronunciation of the French.” Guiding the process, then, was company member Scott Raker. King-Hall effusively praises his unflappability and calm under pressure. To illustrate her point, she shares a story about a phone conversation with Raker. One night she called the director to discuss various aspects of the production and he answered her in his usual measured tone. Throughout the phone call, though, she could hear his wife asking him questions in the background. Raker eventually told King-Hall that he would have to call her back later as he had discovered a gas leak in his apartment and had been dealing with it while talking to her. With such steady leadership, it’s no surprise that the company is able to create such intense and exciting projects.

For her own part, King-Hall makes it clear that her process is about creating action. She emphasizes that, though she brushed up on the Arthurian legends in preparation but she stayed away from the temptation to over-research the role. “I knew if I started intellectualizing it, the fun would go out of it,” she says. Far from being a way of avoiding doing work, this is a crucial—and often mishandled—step of the actor’s process. It is the job of the playwright and director to handle the thematic and intellectual content of the storytelling. The actor’s job is to bring the character to life through the use of their voice and body. Overly intellectualizing the process muddies the results and produces lifeless, boring theatre. The Immediate Family’s background, then, and ability to trust one another to handle their respective portions is a critical component of their aesthetic.

All this gives a picture of a young, dynamic company committed to making thrilling theatre. Perceval, featuring Elizabeth King-Hall, Michael Propster, Haas Regen, and Gillian Williams, plays AS220 in Providence from August 31st at 8pm, September 1st at 2pm and 8pm and September 2nd at 2pm. Directed by Scott Raker and with music by Mackenzie Shivers, all tickets are ten dollars. Don’t miss this thrilling and unforgettable take on a classic tale. 

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