Merlin: The Untold Adventures at the Theatricum Botanicum
August 8, 2013 - By Flavia Potenza
PHOTO BY IAN FLANDERS
Syd Mason as the Wolf and Melora Marshall as Merlin in Merlin: The Untold Adventures playing through Sept. 29 at the Theatricum Botanicum.
Merlin: The Untold Adventures, written and directed by Ellen Geer, Artistic Director of the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, opened on July 20 after three years of research and writing and three weeks of rehearsing all 55 members of the cast and chorus.
Of the plays Geer has written, adapted and/or directed, this is, so far, her magnum opus. Geer is passionate and ambitious in the topics she chooses, whether its an original rendering of an ancient myth, an adaptation of a classic book (Dracula), or Shakespeare in modern dress, she brings historical understanding to her contemporary take on social issues and melds its relevance with modern times.
With Merlin: The Untold Adventures, she delved into Druid and Celtic lore to discover the deep and darker roots of the sorcerer who would guide Uther Pendragon (Aaron Hendry) and then his son, Arthur (Colin Simon), to the British throne.
This is not the romance of Camelot.
PHOTO BY IAN FLANDERS
From left, Jim LeFave as Satan and Abby Craden as the sorceress Morgana in Merlin:
The Untold Adventures playing through Sept. 29 at the Theatricum Botanicum.
It is pre-Arthurian legend, set against the bloody backdrop of Britains history of invasions by the Romans from the south that wiped out the Druids and invasions from barbarians in the north until Arthurs ascension to the throne.
Combining elements from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, biblical texts, Atlantis, Stonehenge and a clash of kings and dynasties, Geer uses a multitude of theatrical devicessimple narrative; instructive narrative to set the historical timeline; action scenes of invasion and slaughter throughout the ages; Greek chorus, spoken and sung; and a dynamic musical score composed and produced by her nephews, Marshall and Kellen McDanielthat befit the telling of this beloved yet convoluted myth.
This is Merlins story told by him, often cryptically as was his wont, of the burden he bore as the seer, the prophet, the magician, the Wild Man of the Wood, the sorcerer and the truth-teller who was to bring peace to England. Merlin was the last of the druids, the Celtic shaman, priest of nature, and keeper of knowledge, particularly of the arcane secrets.
Merlin: The Untold Adventures opens with the Ancient Merlin (Melora Marshall) advising Young Merlin (Lily Andrew) to introduce the young Merlin grappling with his identity. This is a time-traveler device that will crop up throughout the play to help Merlin carry his own narrative. This is a bit confusing until you accept the possibility that, among other things, Merlin was a time-traveler, disappearing here, appearing there, with no explanation.
Inserting Satan (Jim LeFave ) into the sorcerers mix is an essential choice because, according to Geoffreys account, Merlin was the son of the devil or an incubus who became the servant of God.
Le Fave stakes his claim early on as evil incarnate, overjoyed with his powers. Just when you think LeFave, the actor, is having too good a time playing the really bad guy, layers of his character emerge as magic defeats magic in dueling power struggles between Satan and Merlins mother, Igraine (Susan Angelo), between Satan and Merlin, and between Merlin and his half-sister and nemesis, the sorceress Morgana (Abby Craden). Its amusing to see that sorcerers, even Satan, have their limitations.
Each of these actors electrify the air with their portrayals of good versus evil, evil versus evil and good versus good, in a 12th century account of a power struggle that seems very akin to the 21st century.
Providing the musical score for such an epic play were Geer's nephews, brothers Marshall and Kellen McDaniel in their first collaboration that began last year. Marshall provided the score for Geers adaptation of Dracula in 2007.
Making magical music is so fun because you get to pull out all of your weird stuff, said Marshall, who combined fifth-century music with electronic technology.
The result said Kellen is a balance between historical accuracy and the fantasy of the story.
Between the two of them they created orchestral-sized sessions with full strings layered on, horn sections, live percussion and special effects.
Sometimes the music provides a subtle clue to whats coming next; it could be a sweet intermezzo; a choral narrative; or a subliminal device to intensify the visual sensation of war.
PHOTO BY IAN FLANDERS
Aaron Hendry and Susan Angelo in Merlin:
The Untold Adventures at the Theatricum Botanicum.
This rendering of the Merlin Emrys myth ends with the ascension of Arthur to the throne and a short-lived peace throughout the land, which no one knows how to deal with.
Perhaps that is why the Knights of the Round Table pursued the Crusades so they could keep the only jobs they knew: killing and conquering. Ridiculous speculation, but war didnt stop with the brief respite that was Camelot.
Geer rose to the challenge of the untold adventures of Merlin in the care she took to present a huge story in palatable and entertaining portions.
A suggestion: Before you see this play, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the Merlin myth and characters. Youll enjoy it if you dont, but youll appreciate it more if you do.
Merlin plays through September 29 at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290.
Tickets ($10 to $35) and the schedule are available online at theatricum.com; (310) 455-3723.