Theater Review | Princess Bride: Fan Service or Occult Summoning?

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016 

under Culture by Kenny Ong


The Good

- Classic script

- Audience participation

- Contagious energy

- Enthusiastic acting

- Just plain fun

 

The Bad

- Ticket price a bit high for what the show is

- Opening night had its hiccups

 

The stage adaptation of The Princess Bride is a joke, and I mean that in the best way possible. Anything 90s nostalgia might as well be a joke, like Hah my childhood is fading into irrelevance! Important stuff, being able to laugh at yourself.



In case you're not a Jonestown-esque 90s-kid cult member, Urban Aphrodite's The Princess Bride, playing at The Pearl Theatre, is a stage adaptation of a movie adapted from a book, all of the same name.

 


 

The movie is what infected the collective conscious with quotes like, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." I would say my brain is pretty clean in that respect, since I can't remember how long it's been since I last saw the movie, and couldn't remember the exact story before watching the show at The Pearl.



The story is a mixed bag of renaissance fantasy, comedy, true love (Hah!), friendship, and revenge, all framed by a meta-narrative of a grandson telling a story to his sick grandson. Some of these elements don't work as on stage as well they do on a movie screen, but the show gets by on the creative set/prop humor, the energy of the actors and audience, and the strength of the original movie script.




In our interview with Ann James, the show's director, James explained how the movie's original script went untouched for the stage adaptation, as it was strong enough on its own, and she wanted to hold on to what made such a quotable movie so special.


That might sound like it makes for a rehash snoozlefest, but the original script's jokes haven't gone dead horse yet ("Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."), and James's welcoming audience participation brings new life to old lines.




Actors would turn to the audience for the big moments, and crank their already lively performances to 11, and it would be like we were all faced with Inigo Montoya, whose father all of you have killed, so all of you should prepare to die. Whether you know the lines or not, it's fun, like a hearing a fun folk lyric, or maybe mildly disturbing, like partaking in an occult summoning.



So The Princess Bride movie script translated well into the stage show, but getting the movie’s visual flairs to the stage, not so much. Can’t really expect a castle movie set with pyrotechnics on a theater stage.




Instead of just settling for less, though, Urban Aphrodite’s production did more with less by embracing their budgeted set design with a wink and a smirk towards the audience. Stage hands in black body sleeves served as tables and trees, and actors fully committed to moments of near child’s play with pretend rats of unusual size and moments of near death.



Of course all that might have fallen flat without the fun and infectious (non-venereal) energy of the cast. Key lines, character quirk and dynamics, and other bits of acting were done with almost meth-fueled enthusiasm and manic commitment. The pretend-horse-riding was majestic and hilarious. And actors owned their goofy wigs and get-ups. My long-time sneaking suspicion that Asian men’s faces can look sometimes vaguely Spanish was confirmed by actor Brian Wang playing Inigo Montoya.




The show also had a few well-choreographed swordfights, with flashy moves and dynamic movement that used the whole stage. The performers, though, were at times visibly hesitant with their swings. The folks handling the lighting and a few of the actors could also have used some more rehearsal to squash moments of awkward silence and darkness.


The Verdict


It might just be that I witnessed some opening night stage fright, and the shows will get smoother as the cast and crew do more, but the overall low-budget-indie feel of the show might not justify its 200 RMB ticket price, especially considering the other options that people have for their evening’s entertainment.

 


 

But if you don’t mind ticket price, Urban Aphrodite’s The Princess Bride is just about right for what it is—a stage adaptation of a campy, lighthearted 90s flick that does justice to its source material for fans and non-fans alike. 

 

Princess Bride runs at the Pearl Theatre Thursdays-Sundays until the 22nd.


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