Creed, the knight, is snapping photos of his therapist, Dr. Tulip, in a scene in A Knight’s Escape, by Eastenders Repertory now at the Ashby Stage.
“Why did you do that?”—“It helps me to know who is truthful.”—“How is that working for you?”—“Good. It works.”—“But how?”—“No one can lie to the camera.”
A Knight’s Escape, by the company’s founding Artistic Director Charles Polly, is alternating at the theater with Scott Munson’s WWJD? [What Would Jesus Do?], a burlesque morality play about the chairman of the Fed having a religious experience when thrown in with the poor.
Introducing A Knight’s Escape , Susan Evans, Eastenders’ artistic director who directed WWJD?, remarked that it was a very different kind of play than Munson’s comedy. And A Knight’s Escape, though maybe more of a social morality play than WWJD? (subtitled “Some Good Old Medieval Morality Play Motor Oil”), is in form and development a departure—both for the company and its author.
“Structurally, my other plays have been very linear, and mostly autobiographical,” says Charles Polly. “The Twyla Trilogy was about an Appalachian man, living in California with HIV, who goes back home. There’s a lot of the vernacular in it; it’s poetic, in that way.”
A Knight’s Escape, about Creed, an agoraphobic photographer (!) who dreams he’s a knight—and is attacked by his friends in his dreams—is clearly a departure from autobiography, though there is still a character at the center, who, as Melville said of Hamlet, like a revolving beacon illuminates everything around. What’s around is a neighborhood with an interwoven web of others who are often not what they at first seem to be.
Much of the humor of the play is deadpan. Creed, the phobic shutterbug, is alternately “shooting” with his camera and fleeing the connections with the outside world, which crop up in his dreams (where he finds himself really shooting—even at his friends—only to be congratulated by a pirouetting damsel-in-distress, oddly replaced by a fellow-in-distress).
But some vignettes are really comic. Jenson Block (Susan Kendall), “a television journalist” with a very knowing smile, tells her “video diary” about the pivotal experience of her childhood, her reaction to Walter Cronkite breaking down in tears over the assassination of JFK: “It was as much about Cronkite as it was about Kennedy ... It was my first sexual experience—and also when I knew I wanted to be on television!”
Much of the action is anything but linear, following different relationships between different characters in the neighborhood, and Creed’s psychic recycling of it all. The players are recycled too: Peter Matthews (Creed), Craig Dickerson (Joe Joe), Michaela Greeley (Dr. Tulip) and Sarah Korda (Marlene) all play major parts in WWJD? Of the others, Reg Clay (Dr. Tulip’s “tranquillized” son, rowdy Jonathan) and Susan Kendall are past Eastenders (Kendall a founding member), and David Stein (Creed’s friend Lesman, a journalist) an actor seen in local productions by Shotgun Players, Actors Ensemble and Subterranean Shakespeare.
“Repertory Ensemble” is an accurate description of the Eastender process.
The different scenes and vignettes gradually coalesce around Creed’s mounting hysteria, like magnetized iron filings.
But they also mirror the collective panic that touches off Creed’s, and reaffirms it, and how media attention, gossip or even just idle concern over a person or situation can spiral out of control. The situations and characters pull in different ways. In exasperation Creed exclaims, “That’s what everybody says, ‘Trust me!’”
Polly experiments with different modes from those of his previous plays. They, too, have a tendency to pull apart at some points. Sometimes there’s a little too much dream symbolism; in others, it verges on melodrama. The ending’s that of a morality play, though more like G. K. Chesterton than the medieval moralities WWJD? parodies. It loops back into the dream and its meanings. Even with its social message, the play’s relation to both reality and the fantastic element of dreams is often uncertain. At its best, it’s Manneristic, with multiple perspectives, as in dramatists from Shakespeare to Pinter.
When you’re juggling, it’s hard to keep all the balls airbourne. But Charles Polly seems to be heading in new directions with A Knight’s Escape. It’s part of the evolution of a playwright and an ensemble repertory company.
This is the last weekend coming up for both plays. The Eastenders discount the second show 25 percent for those audience members returning for more.
Eastenders Repertory presents A Knight’s Escape (alternating with WWJD?) Thursday-Sunday through May 15 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. $15-$18. 568-4118.à