“The King Stag” is an amazingly apt fairy tale for our time,
considering it was written in the 18th century. Back in the days of
commedia dell’arte, when author Carlo Gozzi was alive, children’s
fables were genuinely scary.
The villain or villainess was capable of every cruelty --
poisoning, dismemberment, torture -- leaving the hero or heroine
defenseless, save for the guaranteed but improbable intervention of a
completely unexpected event. “The King Stag” is no exception to that
So we find our hero, good King Deramo of Serendippo, still
searching for a virtuous bride, having rejected 2,748 so far. He’s
aided in his search by a magic statue, which comes to life in a
variety of smiles and guffaws depending on just how many lies each
prospective bride might tell.
Angela, a beautiful commoner truly in love with the king, handily
passes the 20-questions test. This foils the evil plotting of
Tartaglia, the king’s minister, whose furiously stuttered asides
(“Arsenic? Why not?”) let us know the king was supposed to marry his
daughter, Clarice, and leave Angela to satisfy his beastly lust.
Director Joe Graves does a fine job of keeping up the pace needed
to maintain the interest of young and old alike. He ambitiously
combines the broadness of the commedia style with the elegance of
costumes, sets and movement inspired by the Chinese Opera, even if
the two styles don’t always mix.
The cast is uniformly fine, with several standouts. Stephen
Rockwell comes maleficently to life once his King Deramo takes on a
darker persona. Clearly, being evil is more fun, but then, why else
would you want to be evil anyway?
Conversely, William Dennis Hunt’s Tartaglia finds beautiful depths
of passion once a finer spirit inhabits his body.
Special mention also goes to Jill Hill, as both Tartaglia’s
faithful daughter, Clarice, and the inelegantly hilarious Smeraldina.
These ancient tales hold little resemblance to today’s safe and
sanitized visits with talking dinosaurs. No matter how mild or how
graphic the violence may be (and in this case, the violence is toned
down for a more general audience), the issue remains the same -- what
should we do to remain kind and honest and alive, in a world where
people can be so mean and false and deadly?
And what better place to ask that question than in a fairy tale?