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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Georgia Shakespeare draws no blood from 'Stone'

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  • Georgia Shakespeare
Georgia Shakespeare's family production of The Legend of the Sword in the Stone keeps faith with the episodes and the spirit of its source material, the first book of T.H. White's The Once and Future King. Consider that both an endorsement and a gentle warning, however. The Legend of the Sword in the Stone emphasizes animal antics over knightly swashbuckling, so expect a show that feels more like The Wind in the Willows than the company's take on Robin Hood from a few years ago.

This whimsical fantasy on Arthurian lore focuses on the king-to-be as young Wart, a nickname short for both "ward" and "Arthur." Raised as a virtual son by hearty Sir Ector (Anne Marie Gideon), Wart (Caitlin McWethy) anticipates a future of being a squire to his older stepbrother Kay (Casey Hoekstra), destined to be a knight. One day Wart tries to find a lost falcon and meets absent-minded wizard Merlin (Brian Harrison), who volunteers to teach both lads, but sees greatness in Wart's future.

Merlin's tutelage concerns not book-learning or athletic training but magical field trips. The wizard transforms Wart into different animals, and each incident gives him a new perspective on the natural world and human affairs. As a fish in the moat, Wart learns of power from the huge, ruthless pike that rules like a king. He learns of courage when transformed into a bird and spends a night in the barracks-like falconry. A sojourn in an anthill teaches him about blind leadership and unjustified warfare, while a jaunt with geese imparts the value of peaceable cooperation.

Adapted and directed by Tim Conley and Allen O'Reilly, The Legend of the Sword in the Stone unfolds as a series of cute vignettes with puppets and animal half-costumes. The ant sequence is particularly amusing, with Gideon riding on Hoekstra's back as a worker ant who comes across as part Communist, part robot. Wart's animal acquaintances have quirky personalities and impart valuable life lessons, but their sequences contain little dramatic tension. (I confess I feel the same way about the original Sword in the Stone from 1938. I'd seen Disney's cartoon feature a few time's but when I read the book to my daughter a few years ago, I thought "This quaint, charming classic sure is kind of... boring." So maybe it's me.)

A fairy witch called Morgana (Gideon) appears a couple of time to provide some villainous conflict, and the final sword-from-the-stone sequence proves appropriately iconic. McWethy makes a sympathetic Wart and the rest of the performers from the Will Power ensemble should appeal to young audiences. Adults might wish that this Sword play had more swordplay.

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