Fringe shows shouldn't duplicate what can be seen any weekend in small theater. "The Ring of Steel" certainly supplied something different Monday night at the Mark Taper Forum--and on the "Babbitt" set, at that.
It was an evening of sword fights.
It didn't get monotonous. In fact there was too much variety, as with a piano recital where absolutely everybody in the studio gets a chance to perform. The show needed a stronger point of view, a narrator and a smaller, better-matched cast. But the variety made a point.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday September 25, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 19 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
Jim Pirri played the role of Macduff in "The Ring of Steel" Monday at the Mark Taper Forum. He was misidentified in Wednesday's Calendar.
"Swordplay" is a language. It offers not merely a choice of weapons (foils, pikes, broadswords, daggers) but a choice of moods (comical, tragical, whimsical, Byronic).
The comedy numbers seemed the most adroit Monday night. A quartet known as Forte did a 10-minute spoof-history of fencing in the movies. You don't send up Errol Flynn without knowing his moves, and this group (Gillian Bagwell, Stuart Chapin, Joe Nassi, Louis Roth) was on the button.
A timid duel from "Rashomon" also brought laughter--until one of the duelists got it in the neck. The choreographer here was Anthony DeLongis, the reluctant fighters Miguel Marcott and Wayne Sitz.
But it was the serious numbers that best conveyed the power and the pathos of the sword.
Achilles (Rodney McDonald) took on Hector (Steven Breithaupt)--this number choreographed by the show's artistic director, Theodore Katzoff. Macbeth (Michael Cudlitz) took on Macduff (Peter Duchenes)--this staged by Erik Fredricksen. Short, brutal battles that implied the warrior's code even when it was being flaunted.
Much of the swordplay was accompanied by wordplay, at which the performers proved far less expert. The "Cyrano de Bergerac" scene was particularly lame. Eg Mahan moves exquisitely (he's a trained mime), but he doesn't read lines well, and his swordplay is elementary.
Trimmed and focused, however, "The Ring of Steel" could be a remarkable show. A second edition of it would be welcome.