Reviewed by Karl Levett
Presented by The Lady Cavaliers at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., NYC, Oct. 5-21.
Specialization is a recognized feature of Off-Off Broadway companies, as each identifies a theatrical niche and makes the most of it. Now here comes The Lady Cavaliers, a new company devoted to creating opportunities for women in the art of stage combat—yes, you heard right, stage combat.
For their first production, the group commissioned (from playwright Peter Hilton) a fairytale in verse that gives a lot of chances for the all-woman cast to swash their buckle. It traces the adventures of a rightful princess, Gloria (Carrie Brewer), pitted against the evil forces of her sister Maladie (Bevin Kaye) and her stepmother (Kittson O'Neill). This is truly hybrid corn, with palace intrigue, raucous prostitutes, talking trees, and heroic nuns, plus the requisite confrontations with rapiers, knives, staves, and whips.
If all that sounds like your cup of tea, you'd be disappointed. For nowhere in Hilton's play, nor in Alexandra Ornitz's direction, is there a hint of humor. In fact, the play and the performance are at pains to be desperately earnest and to maintain a kind of fairytale innocence throughout. But, alas, Sigmund Freud keeps intruding, as lovely ladies parry with phallic swords, a princess courts a nun, and a whore cracks a kangaroo-hide bullwhip. In the play, a tongue is cut out—and that tongue should have been place firmly in the author's cheek.
Brewer is a resolute, handsome heroine—in fact, this is an attractive cast. If the arch-villains are too arch by half, Jennifer Loia Alexander is a well-spoken Abbess, and Denise Alessandria Hurd is a stylish brothel keeper. The much-vaunted combat (under David Dean Hastings' direction) is spirited, if difficult to be wholly convincing in such an intimate setting. But with all due respect, the Lady Cavaliers are a puzzlement: Is this the intellectual response to women's mud wrestling? That Lucy Lawless has much to answer for.