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Courting Fun With Some Knights to Remember

November 08, 1987|CHARLES SOLOMON

Medieval Times, 7662 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. (714) 521-4740. Shows Monday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 and 9 p.m.; Sunday 1, 4:45 and 7:30 p.m. Dinner and the show is $25 per person, $17 for children under 12 .

Visitors to "Medieval Times," an elaborate dinner theater in Buena Park that attempts to re-create the Middle Ages, find themselves suspended somewhere between 20th-Century California and the Castille of Alfonso VI. Going from bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic to an 11th-Century castle (with a costumed cast and electronic sound system) can be a little disorienting.

The setting is intended to represent a castle in a small Spanish kingdom in 1093. Five centuries after Arthur's Camelot, the Dark Ages are drawing to a close. El Cid (Rodrigo Diaz) is near the end of his adventurous career, the Normans have conquered Sicily and Alexius Comnenus is restoring the sagging fortunes of the Byzantine Empire. In two years, Pope Urban II will open the era of the Crusades with his famous oration at Clermont.

When you enter "Medieval Times," you're issued a pasteboard crown in one of six colors: The color determines the location of your table in the vast, 1,000-seat arena. The emcee and the young waiters and waitresses encourage you to cheer for your section and the knight bearing your color. The audience is happy to oblige, although the sound system blares music from various ballet and film scores at a volume that defeats even the most vociferous yells.

Most of the show is devoted to feats of horsemanship, executed by a well-trained cast. It begins slowly with a demonstration of dressage and an equestrian ballet to Josef Strauss' "Fire Bell Polka." The pace quickens as six costumed knights compete to impale three-inch rings on their 10-foot lances, hurl javelins into a small target and toss spears back and forth--all while riding at a full gallop.

At the show's climax, the knights break lances on each other's wooden shields, and fight on foot with swords, maces, halberds and morning stars. The duels feature lots of sudden reversals, gymnastic rolls and hurled weapons: Sparks literally fly when sword strikes sword.

The fights have obviously been carefully choreographed. No one sustains more than an occasional bruise and no blood is shed. It's a bit like watching Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant on horseback. But the absence of real violence adds to the fun--you can cheer the knights with a clear conscience, knowing there's no danger of your dashing champion (or his nasty foe) coming to any real harm.

Like many dinner theaters, the emphasis at "Medieval Times" is on the theater, not the dinner. The food is reminiscent of a company picnic--hearty, but hardly exciting: vegetable soup, Cornish game hen and spare ribs in a mild sauce, accompanied by a very spicy herbed potato half. (The latter is a major anachronism: More than 400 years would pass before anyone in Europe saw a potato, but they did have bread.) Any kitchen varlet foolish enough to serve a real count such a gluey apple tart ("Pastries of the Castle") would have lost his job, if not his head.

How authentic is it all? Not very. In the 12th Century, tournaments were more serious affairs, fought by knights in chain-mail. As the longbow and gunpowder diminished the military importance of armored knights during the next two centuries, tournaments grew more elaborate and frivolous. The mock combats of "Medieval Times" resemble the theatrical spectacles the Duke of Burgundy staged during the 15th Century, where everyone had a good time and injuries were kept to a minimum.

But the anachronisms don't prevent an evening at "Medieval Times" from being a lot of fun, particularly if you go in a group. It's a perfect place for a birthday celebration, a bachelor party or as a treat for a history buff.

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