GLENS FALLS — Sometimes comedy is a gentle mediator, bridging the uncomfortable, the murky, the grotesque. Its balm, a shared laughter at the absurd, the real, the banal, often makes us feel less fractured, even if momentarily.
And sometimes, hilariously intelligent plays, like those of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, traverse life’s dark turns in brilliant ways.
Following in Ayckbourn’s tradition, The Adirondack Theatre Festival’s production of “The Enlightenment of Percival von Schmootz,” directed by Scott Weinstein, journeys into testy social and political issues with such finesse and humor that only upon reflection does its true meaning emerge.
“The Enlightenment of Percival von Schmootz” is one that shouldn’t be missed.
Now playing at the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls, this musical comedy by the New York City-based writing team of Michael Kooman (music) and Christopher Dimond (book & lyrics) is humorously seductive and, at times, seductively suggestive.
Almost immediately wowed by the set and lighting — scenic design by William Boles and lighting by Jeffrey Small — an ancient, craggy feel transports the audience into a darker, more primitive time. Complete with mulch trimmings that look like a mixture of dirt, hay and straw; massively tilting stone pillars; archways; and a medieval Abbey and garden, “Percival’s” creators establish a sensory bonanza before the curtain rises.
Opening in the plague-ridden hamlet of Manureshire, Percival, a 20-something, optimistic life neophyte, (played by Kyle Sherman) sings of bringing light to the Dark Ages.
“Ah! What a glorious morning it is here in Manureshire. The sun ist shining. A gentle breeze ist blowing. And lo, from atop yonder piles of dung, yon dung pigeons sing,” sings Percival, “Forsooth, my friends, ‘tis indeed a wonder these are called the Dark Ages.”
Unfettered by the rapidly spreading, body-heaving and body-dropping Black Death around him, Percival vows to bring light to dark times because he simply believes, like many historians, the age is not that dark after all.
In the second scene, there is a hilarious interaction between Percival and his dying mother, played by Tess Primack. Reminiscent of all the mom guilt in the world, Primack’s performance is spot-on.
“Do not fret for me, son, the fever’s not that bad. It’s just a little higher than the one that killed your Dad,” she sings, faintingly, in Percival’s arms.
And even when despair, anguish and death steal everything from him, Percival finds path after path on his journey to the light.
Perhaps most spectacular in this tour de force is the choreography and vocals by all.
The scenes with Sir Brontis (played by Zach Knonov) and the Abbey with Mother Superior (played by Erik Gratton), the nuns (played by Primack, Sydney Parra, Cathryn Wake), Percival and a few other drop-ins are brilliant.
The Saturday Night Live-type physical humor blended with much deeper social meanings in this extraordinary performance.
Overall, “Percival” was a delight that moved quickly. Don’t be stalled by the opening scene’s bawdy and superficial tones; by the time Percival encounters Flavian, it’s worth every minute.
Percival runs through Saturday at the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls.
Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli covers Washington County government and other county news and events.
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