There were two conflicting issues at play in my mind as I took my seat to view the Actors Guild of Parkersburg’s upcoming production of Monty Python’s Spamalot. On one hand, I’m a confessed Python snob. Being the old geezer on staff at this publication, I grew up being the only kid in my class quoting Monty Python’s Flying Circus because nobody else was watching the relatively unknown (at that time) show on PBS. I used to have whole skits memorized and would do them in a British accent regularly, much to the bemusement of my classmates and teachers. As such, I go into any production that doesn’t include the actual original cast members with a high degree of trepidation and doubt. Any presentation that doesn’t live up to the original will be painful to watch. On the other hand, I know Charlie Matthews. I like and respect him and am fully confident that any production of which he’s a part is going to be top-notch. And when he’s the director, it’s hard to go wrong.
I am happy to say that as I got up from my seat at the end of the final dress rehearsal, my ribs actually ached from laughing. And I’m not being hyperbolic about that. I laughed out loud and at great length through the entire show. Everything about it was perfect, from the set (which may be the best one I’ve witnessed anywhere in community theater) to the costumes to the props to the acting and singing. And that’s no small undertaking. The cast is huge and anyone who knows anything about theater can tell you that for every person on the stage there are multiple people who have been laboring for months to make those actors look and sound good. Mr. Matthews caught me at intermission and we talked for quite a while about how grateful he is to have had the amount of support that he received in pulling off this enormous production, especially during the summer months. He listed the shockingly large number of people involved in costumes, set construction, props, lights, sound, and choreography—all working just for the love of theater.
Addressing the script, I was surprised. As someone who has watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail several times, I was expecting simply that with some of it set to music. And while the best parts of the movie are there, including the plague village (“Bring out your dead!”), the French castle, the Black Knight (How they pulled that off is just brilliant.), and the Knights who say Ni, what surprised me was how it strayed from the source material to make it an honest-to-goodness musical comedy, with romance (done in the inimitably quirky style we expect only from Monty Python) and some pretty impressive dance numbers. What’s fun is that, while they added a romantic ingénue in the Lady of the Lake, she spent most of her time on stage singing about the fact that she was the ingénue and her part wasn’t big enough. That’s part of what makes me love Monty Python so much. It is the British comedy version of Deadpool, openly acknowledging the fact that this is theater and there’s an audience out there with which they feel free to interact. At one point a member of the audience actually comes onstage.
This hasn’t been your average review in which I talk about specific scenes or actors that were particularly powerful, but this is not your average production. It almost defies description. If you’re a Pythonite like me, I’m confident you’ll love every second as much as I did. But even if you’ve been living under a rock and have never heard of Monty Python and The Holy Grail, I’m sure you’ll laugh just as often and just as heartily. Be warned that it gets a little raunchy and even a bit sacrilegious at times, so it may not be something you would want to take small children to, but teenagers and up will find this to be one of the most entertaining shows in the history of the Guild.
Monty Python’s Spamalot opens Friday, July 23 and runs for three consecutive weekends, closing on Saturday, August 6. As is traditional, the curtain goes up at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Also traditionally, there is one matinee on Sunday, July 31 at 2:30 p.m. Get your tickets as soon as possible, as I’m sure word of mouth will soon make them hard to come by.