Who Would Be King

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday November 14, 2015

Glen Moore in 'Who Would Be King,' continuing through Nov. 22 at Club Oberon
Glen Moore in 'Who Would Be King,' continuing through Nov. 22 at Club Oberon  (Source:Liars and Believers)

Liars and Believers (LAB) draws once again on their bulging theatrical tool kit, bringing together drama, comedy, movement, clowning, and live music -- with a dash of puppetry -- to tell the story of a man named Saul in "Who Would Be King," running through Nov. 22 at Club Oberon.

Despite her best efforts, a prophet called Sam (Rebecca Lehrhoff) cannot get the "bumbleheads" who inhabit the land to stop worshiping random objects and animals and turn their adulation to God. The bumbleheads evidently don't grasp the concept -- or the utility -- of a supreme being who cannot be seen and personally offered sacrifices. Moreover, they feel a need to have someone in their midst to whom they can directly address their complaints: Stubbed toes, crop failure, dead families, all that sort of thing. They need and want a physical focus for their sadness, anger, and despair. In short, they declare, they want a king.

God accedes to their wishes and dispatches an angel, Agnes (Rachel Wiese), to instruct Sam to identify and anoint a king. Agnes' instructions seem cryptic at first, but in short order they allow Sam to find Saul (Glen Moore), a farmer who only reluctantly takes on the cares and worries that kingship entails. Under Saul's leadership, the bumbleheads repel maurauders and live in peace and plenty for twenty years. Eventually a new enemy rises, and the aging king turns to a fresh champion, D (Veronica Barron, to repel his attacks under command of Jonny (Jesse Garlick), Saul's son.

Drawing from Biblical legends and instilling contemporary political sensibilities into the piece, the LAB ensemble and director Jason Slavick re-cast an ancient story in a way that feels immediate. Parallels to Saddam Hussein, tabloid infotainment, and our own uneasily militarized culture make this more a political play than a religious experience, and the satire unfolds in a timeless, placeless region that's both the Here and Now and also a generic, mythical There and Then.

Jesse Garlick, Veronica Barron, Rachel Wiese and Glen Moore in 'Who Would Be King'  (Source: Liars and Believers)

It's a matter of personal taste, but the broadly overacted clowning of the first half struck me as forced. It's when the story takes a darker turn, with Saul incurring God's displeasure (over what seems a perfectly practical and sensible use of enemy spoils -- but that's the Old Testament version of God for you), that the play takes on dramatic substance. When the climactic scenes arrive, it's easy to find yourself gripped by the story and invested in the Greek tragedy-like fates toward which the characters drive themselves.

Aaron Sherkow's lighting design keeps up with the troupe's dynamic use of the space; the sound design underscores the epic nature of the story; and Ted Hewlett's fight choreography is thrilling. Kendra Bell's costumes are a perfect blend of Biblical and carnival. This is a show with a heart, a mind, and red plastic noses all around.

LAB is committed to making its work fully accessible, so the show's dialogue is projected onto screens in supertitles for the benefit of the hearing impaired. Club Oberon being a cabaret space, LAB has also come up with a specialty cocktail for the show -- something called the Bucket of Yak's Milk.

"Who Would Be King" continues through Nov. 22 at Club Oberon. For tickets and more information please visit http://www.liarsandbelievers.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.