2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Swordplay

In a faraway kingdom, an evil Count has forced the King to split up his two children and send them off into exile. Now, either they must find each other and save the kingdom, or an evil wizard will take it all for himself.

So begins Swordplay, which apparently was a (much better and beloved) Fringe play 25 years ago, now re-imagined as a musical with work done by famed Fringe faggot Darrin Hagen. Unsurprisingly, the poofter words and music end up dragging the play down and extending its running time far beyond what we the audience needed to deal with.

The story starts out with the Count's men on the search for "Captain Jack", who has apparently been robbing from the rich and stealing from the poor and yadda yadda yadda. They encounter two women who are part of Jack's crew, and before you even see the robed and obviously gender-disguising figure of Jack coming this way you know how this is going to turn out: "Jack" is actually the exiled princess, on the run and trying to track down her brother the lost prince so that they can combine their two amulets together and make the fairytale MacGuffin that will open the other MacGuffin and bring peace to the kingdom. However, unbeknownst to them, they are being persued by another villain not in league with the Count: rather a mercenary in league with a dark and sinister wizard who, hilariously, he can only communicate with by drawing blood from a finger, of which he starts running low as his conversations get cut short. The wizard and the mercenary hire an "ass-ass-in" [I find it important to note that the first queer joke in this blogpost is from the playwright. You'd better hold off on those commments folks! -ed] to help them eliminate Captain Jack, who its known has been hiding and protecting the exiled princess. Confused yet? Hope not, things turn stranger:

As this goes on, Sedgewick (Mat Busby, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Alan Tudyk) arrives with his indentured servant Glen (Ben Stevens, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Johnny Galecki). Sedgewick enjoys pretending to be more famous noblemen and bedding the women who come with it, while Glen wants...its not really important, actually: his character's motivations are all over the place throughout the performance. Anyways, while "Captain Jack" casts aside her outfit to instead portray a peasant girl (two evil forces, after all, are after her), Sedgewick finds it and picks it up, deciding he will play Captain Jack as his next way to woo girls. The first girl he meets, of course, is the Princess Melodia who has in true "Ben Kenobi" fashion decided to keep using her real name while she goes under cover as a simple peasant. She and Sedgewick instantly fall for one another, in a moment that for one of these two characters will go completely forgotten for the next hour and a half of running time. "Captain Jack" tells her, however, he knows how to find the good Wizard Sharliton (who the princess needs to find her brother which she really doesn't but oh well), so Melodia is forced to follow this guy around who's hitting on her when she doesn't like it in the hopes that he's more honest about knowing wizards than being a brazen outlaw. Seriously, since they seemed to drop the "both fell in love at first sight" 12 seconds after they used it in favour of "he's horny and after her" instead her motivations for following him are highly suspect. Why would she think that the lying liar isn't lying to her now, to borrow the line from Louis Heren?

As these two go through the forest, Captain Jack's other two bandmates go out and also fall in love with other performers: Glen gets the chubby one who's stealing from her coworkers and running off in cowardice, and the mercenary Raeban (Garett Ross) gets the tall prettier one who fakes falling in love with him but doesn't because he's evil, only to reveal at the end they were in love after all. Just because that's how this works (ask late-season episodes of Friends), the evil wizard also gets a girl: the ass-ass-in Vespa who decides that guarding this evil man in service of the royal family will redeem herself.

The story isn't necessarily easy to follow, and throwing in a bunch of clearly out-of-place songs here and there doesn't help the audience keep up: half the running time of each song is dedicated to arguing whether or not there's going to be a chorus of backup singers available. As this play has an obnoxious running time of two hours, cutting out 20 or even 35 minutes of unnecessary singing would be just what the doctor ordered. After the intermission we go to the evil wizard's lair when he fights Glen who has pretended to be the good wizard (Sharliton himself never appears, even though he's cast in the program as Ned Pert), Raeban tries to kill Captain Jack, Vespa tries to kill the tall pretty girl who apparently got her kicked out of the royal guard, and Glen and his girl just try to pilfer the cupboards and run like hell. It's complicated by the fact that the evil wizard has gargoyles in his castle who can sense where everybody is; was anybody else faked out when the gargoyle insisted that what he said was totally true and that Sharliton was in the west wing? I figured for sure that Glen would be elsewhere and the gargoyle was seeing the "real" Sharliton, which would be used for great effect later. Ah well, too bad, I guess. Also in this plot are the two (apparently identical?) halfs of the prince/princess amulet, which are mixed around and confused over and over and over again. Is the evil wizard actually the prince? Or did he just kill the prince and take the amulet, waiting for the princess and her other half to reveal itself? Or did he just find the amulet and the prince is still alive and well, actually one of our main characters though we haven't seen it yet? Yeah, yeah, it's that last one.

The actors themselves were hit and miss: Busby is great at hamming up the Sedgewick character while still giving him just a little hint of pathos. Jenna Dykes does well with Melodia, and she and Busby do a great scene where she holds his hand during the sword fight...Scott Pilgrim vs. The World style. The two girls in the band (Janine Hodder, Kendra Connor) are decent enough as actors, they were clearly hired more for their excellent singing voices: another pox on the genius idea to put the fruit's music into the piece and diminish the remainder of the work. Stevens and Jason Hardwick do a really good job with their parts, particularly the latter, who really seems to enjoy hamming up his role, especially during the singing even if he's not that good at it. I also reserve judgement if Ben Stevens turns out to be just a lethargic stoner in real life which would take away from the performance.

It's also worth a giant caveat: DON'T GO SEE THIS PLAY IN THE EVENING!!!! There are a couple shows coming up August 22 and 23rd in the late afternoon where you may get to enjoy this play without....THE MOSQUITOES There has been, obviously, a mosquito infestation at the 2014 Fringe, and the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Venues 14, 15, and 16) have a nice big yard and a garden. The little bloodsucking bastards will brutalize you in line and in the building: every time a spotlight was shone on the stage, the crowd gasped in horror as we saw the mosquito plague fill the air. This may also be God's punishment for hiring a poofter to write the music, or something else the Anglican church has been screwing up this decade. Kudos however to the performers for being able to adlib a couple great mosquito gags into the story. Unsurprisingly, killing one got the biggest reaction from the crowd.

Final line: A meandering but well-intentioned plot, this one tries its best. But the tree of entertainment can easily be poisoned when there's corrupt lifestyles infesting their musical roots.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)