Medieval Tale Graces El Cerrito Local Theater

Zhanserik Temirtashev, Managing Editor

The Pioneer Newspaper was cordially invited to the premiere of “Camelot” at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre on Sep. 9, captivating staff and audiences with its charm, wit, and cozy atmosphere.

Adapting upon Alan Jay Lerner’s seminal work of the same name, “Camelot” features the mythical King Arthur and the enduring tale of his struggle to fulfill his utopian ambitions and manifest “Camelot:” a longing for a world that is transcendent of flaw and disarray. Lerner’s King Arthur is depicted as an enlightened despot, embodying the Voltairian ideals of firm, yet benevolent leadership amongst a wayward court of callous guards, a treacherous knight, an unfaithful Queen, and a duplicitous bastard. Despite his righteous endeavors of establishing a just forum at the allegorical Round Table, the King’s undertaking is, ultimately, undermined by the coalition of chaos that ensues. Thwarted, the King found respite in nurturing the legacy of Camelot as an indelible model of statecraft for future societies to emulate, vesting the faith once bestowed onto him by Merlin onto the Tom of Warwick, who is to resurrect the Knights of the Round Table by propagating the tale into the next generation,

The director, Diana Trotter, the music director, Armando Fox, and the choreographer John Butterfield have jointly inaugurated the start of the fall with a timeless, albeit abridged retelling of the Arthurian classic. The modest size of the venue — accommodating a total of 197 guests — serves the production well to establish an intimate experience. Natural voice projection by the actors, live music accompaniment, and the close proximity between the audience and the stage facilitated an immersive setting, enveloping the guests in the dynamic display of chivalry, passion, betrayal, and commitment. Such an arrangement invites the audience into the many sophisticated conflicts that unfold throughout the story, conveying the conviviality of the beginning, the suspense of the middle, and the wistfulness of the end.

While the venue was conducive to a pleasant production, the largest share of credit is owed to the gleaming brilliance of the actors. Adorned in plain costumes and with minimal props at their disposal, the actors were to concentrate squarely on their performance and choreography; both of which were splendid and well-rehearsed. The interaction between the ensemble felt lively and convincing, as every line was delivered with spirit and conscience towards the essence of their character: from the grandiose naivety of King Arthur by Ariel Anderson, the buoyant irresolution of Queen Guinevere by Brenna Sammon, and the stubborn presumptuousness of Lancelot by Collette Roberto. While convention would reason that King Arthur was due for an older actor, Ariel’s youthful looks work to reinforce the idea of a king in his salad days: green to the throne, yet red with virtuous zeal.

The musical talent is, perhaps, the biggest highlight of the production. The “Lusty Month of May” and “Camelot” were especially memorable compositions, demonstrating the best of Brenna’s vivacious soprano and Ariel’s blend of velvet vocals and impeccable comedic timing.

While the characters are undeniably engaging, the condensed two-hour runtime contributed to a lopsided storyline, wherein secondary characters weren’t given their due spotlight. Mordred, the King’s bastard son, serves as an adequate example of underdevelopment. His arrival at the castle is a pivotal moment in the story progression, becoming a catalyst of change and a counterbalance to King Arthur’s quixotic perception of the Round Table and Camelot at large. Considering his significance in the plot, Mordred’s backstory is surprisingly sparse, with little or no information provided about his motivations, his upbringing, and his relationships with the royal family.

Nevertheless, audiences will find this play interesting for its nuanced discussion of power politics and for the humor alike. If you appreciate medieval aesthetics, support your local theater scene, or are looking to spend your Friday evening in enjoyable company, “Camelot” is a wonderful option for entertainment. The Theatre is hosting regular showings from Sep. 9 to Oct. 9 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm.

For tickets, please visit the Contra Costa Civic Theatre.