BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
In short, which this latest work by Kenneth Lonergan certainly is not, “Medieval Play” is a potentially smart 90-minute comedy desperately trapped within a two hour and 45 minute-long fat suit of self-indulgent playwriting.
Opening on Thursday at the Pershing Square Signature Center, “Medieval Play” sporadically hammers out some hearty laughs but disappointingly proves to be a slack, overstuffed effort by the talented author of “Lobby Hero” and “This is Our Youth.”
It is hard not to think Monty Python as Lonergan dispatches two bumbling, tattered mercenary knights through the 1376-78 throes of medieval France and Italy. Sir Ralph (an endearing Josh Hamilton) and his chum Sir Alfred (an affable Tate Donovan) participate in various bloody horrors of the era while chatting about them in modern-day words and mindsets.
Massacres, senseless destruction and damnable papal schism ceaselessly erupt, but these guys plod on, hoping for better times. Often their travails and the story’s ecclesiastical minutiae are annotated by no less than the mystical St. Catherine of Siena, coolly portrayed by Heather Burns as the funniest incarnation in Lonergan’s would-be whimsical look at a very dark age.
Stretches of Lonergan’s picaresque farce – Catherine’s not-so-saintly discourses, a seduction scene, a lesson in dining etiquette, a papal deathbed -- undeniably are comical, but too often the tale aimlessly drifts along, wandering amid the awful rubble of history that the playwright attempts to both animate and mock.
Because Lonergan never crystallizes the holy grail of purpose for taking us on this journey into the scary past, the play soon seems as long as the 100 Years War. Is his saga simply meant to satirize the Catholic Church’s crazy excesses way back when? It’s a little late for that, isn’t it?