nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
February 8, 2006
Avalon is inspired by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. The 1982 book is a retelling of the King Arthur myths from a feminist point of view, re-imagining the familiar characters and putting the rise of Christianity in Great Britain at the center of the story. The narrative arc of the play is strong and the choices Glory Sims Bowen had to make in order to adapt this thousand-page book to two-and-a-half hours of stage time are clear and compelling. We follow these characters through their lives and we care about them. And although some members of this enormous cast are stronger than others, everyone is working together as a team and playing in the same world. Bowen uses Bradley’s slightly different spellings for the names of familiar characters, and a few notable performances include Yvonne Roen as a very commanding Morgause, Cameron Peteron as Gwyhwyfar, Jordana Oberman as a confident, powerful Morgaine, and Matthew Scholler and Matthieu Cornillon as Arthur and Lancelet, whose erotic tension is the most believable in the play. Also, Carolyn Mraz has designed a simple but effective set with four movable pillars that create an ever-moving maze for the characters to navigate through.
Unfortunately, the era the characters are living in and the society they inhabit are not fully realized. The novel is set in fifth century England and has a 1970s hippie-pagan agenda, but the costumes, accents, and manners of the characters in this play range from the time of Christ up through the present day. Because of that, there is no mooring for the religious and political themes that are dead center in this epic story. Also, how and why the mighty, magical kingdom of Avalon has lost its power is never clear. In the world of the play, the Christians showed up one day, asked the women of Britain to give up their power, and they did so cheerfully, no questions asked. This makes Avalon’s power look negligible in comparison. By setting the story in no time and every time, the universality of religious and gender struggle is diffused rather than strengthened.
The strongest element of this play is the relationship drama. The homosexuality, incest, tribal rights and power struggles do not just belong to long-ago royalty—they will be familiar to anyone who moved to a big city after college with a group of close friends. The story of Arthur is one of the world’s first soap operas, and certainly the themes of lifelong friendship and unrequited love cross the boundaries of culture and time.