Buntport Theater Company put several peculiar messages on Facebook before A Knight to Remember opened. These implied that the theater group — known for the creative synergy of its members — was divided on this piece about Brian Colonna's childhood fantasies of knighthood. Erik Edborg would not be involved, the messages said, nor would SamAnTha Schmitz, Buntport's off-stage tech impresario. We shouldn't expect to see Evan Weissman, either — though he has had one foot out the door since founding the political-activist organization Warm Cookies of the Revolution. We learned that Hannah Duggan would be doing the tech, which she promised to mess up, and that Colonna himself would take tickets at the front desk. Did this imply a serious schism within the company?
But A Knight to Remember turns out to be a lighthearted, entertaining and thoroughly Buntportian evening of theater.
The tech consists of Duggan sitting on the floor wearing a gigantic bean bag strapped to her bum (why? Because sitting on the floor for an entire evening is hard) and slipping photos and sketches into a trio of the kind of overhead projectors teachers used in the tech-bereft olden days. But Duggan — as those of us who know and love her realized ahead of time — was never going to perform her services with selfless devotion. She bitches and kibbitzes as Colonna attempts to re-create his memories, which include bits of old books about chivalry, memories of a trip to the Renaissance Fair, and a crush on a classmate called Danielle. Required to take the role of a knightly opponent, she corners Colonna and won't stop whacking him until the entire scene implodes into a welter of blows and childish recriminations.
A Knight to Remember
Presented by Buntport Theater Company through May 11, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, buntport.com.
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Erin Rollman plays many figures, from teacher to squire to dentist, often in hyper-quick succession. Like Duggan, she has no compunction about interrupting the proceedings, particularly in a long segment where she demonstrates her versatility by going from the evil Ursula in The Little Mermaid to the Hunchback in Hunchback of Notre Dame and then complaining when she's prevented from playing all the characters in the final scene of Fatal Attraction.
But funny and talented as these crazy ladies are, the evening belongs to Colonna as he acts out childhood scenes, attempts to eat a cup of noodles with his sword and informs Duggan that she's supposed to shut up when she actually has no lines. His performance is honest, masterful, modest and just plain charming, with moments of genuine sweetness and nostalgia. Of course, the gleaming, clanking suit of armor he wears (courtesy of Chris Weed) is almost a character in itself, and certainly helps.
Though the script and basic structure were put in place ahead of time, the actors are making up a lot of the play as they go, feeling moments of real irritation, pushing each other to the limit, and periodically coming back and reconciling like kids who've been told sternly to stop fighting and get along. So I can't tell you if what I saw on Saturday night will be anything like what you'll see when you go. In fact, Rollman at one point informed us they were skipping a scene that had worked brilliantly the night before. This company really does invent with the kind of freshness and vitality you see in children playing games and just making up one thing after another as they go along; in this way, their work illustrates the creative process itself.
Knight also hints at the dynamics within the company. I have no doubt that Colonna — who often seems to take a back seat — got a bit pushy about his idea, and I imagine the others really did give him grief, with Duggan and Rollman perhaps agreeing to help more out of friendship than conviction. But if their on-stage balkiness is real, it also turns out to be hilarious theater. Rollman's big monologue about how she loves the limelight is doubtless as true as it is self-mocking. So A Knight to Remember works as comedy, theater, an evocation of childhood hopes and dreams — and a metaphor for the company's communal creativity. Perhaps it also works to explore and expiate some real tensions. And it definitely proves that the Buntport troupe can always bring things together in the end. Long may this quest continue.