The architect of Disney’s fairytale castle, King Ludwig of
Bavaria(Shannon Williams), came to life in a campy, anachronistic play, Valhalla, by Paul Rudnick. The clever script was skillfully executed by an outrageous band of players who deftly transformed from one character to another, changing gender, sexuality, class and era. The rundown cabaret setting actually supported the possibility of finding the mythical Shangri-la in contemporary society, if only one values one’s people and surroundings.
From the first several scenes, the paradox of time and space is clear. Boys are coming of age as gay men, albeit with differences in nationalities and statuses. In rural
Texasand in , the mysteries of life are revealed through image and experience. The sheltered Ludwig learns through wrestling; the exploration of two-dimensional pictures leads to a 3-D close encounter between James Avery ( Germany Keith Launey) and Henry Lee (Chris Weaver). Given the exigencies of closet life, the pubescent boys are propelled away from their desires as their families encourage them to seek societal acceptance.
The settings are vividly drawn as characters waltz (sometimes literally, as choreographed by Kevin Champagne) from one period costume to another. The red hair of Queen Marie of
( Bavaria Cammie West) was beautifully offset by her baby blue dress. Ludwig flounced in a gold and burgundy brocade frockcoat, a white ruffled blouse and white tights. In sharp contrast, Henry and James wore blue-collar jeans and T-shirts of the pre-WWII era. At times, the 40s costumes seem slightly contemporary; for example, the red and black plaid wool dress of Sally Mortimer (Liz Mills) looked marvelous with her hair, but updated the period ever so slightly. Still, the detailed military uniforms, especially that of duplicity [sic], yet faithful, Pfeiffer ( Carlos Gonzalez), christened the periods with a slightly frothy realism. Further defining the locale, Director and Set Designer Glenn Meche’s scenic details gave a sense of place, such as wedding toile draped over the proscenium or the shadowy gobos that cast imaginary prison bars on James in jail. Such was the tiny touches of artistry that served as springboards for the actors’ craft.
This play hinges on the actor’s [sic] abilities to play multiple roles, jumping from one culture to another, at the drop of a hat; Director Glenn Meche navigated the actors through the changes with sharp clarity. Shannon
Williams’ precise and studied period gesture anchored the show. Liz Mills retained a natural, believable quality as the sweet, but tough Sally in the 1940s and the gracious, hump-backed Princess Sophie of the 19th century. Cammie Westdelighted the crowd in her over-the-top characterizations not only of European royalty but also as a Jewish tour operator ironically guiding groups amid the murals of operas by the notable anti-Semite Richard Wagner. The antics of James Avery, who tattooed Henry Lee’s name on his arm, then stole Lee’s bride upon his release, threatened to derail love’s potential. Having realized King Ludwig’s proclivities for Wagnerian opera stars, Princess Sophie declined to marry the King. As the worlds began to collide, Ludwig reacted to war by embarking on a fantastical building frenzy culminating in ethereal underground grotto in New York Valhalla. Keith Launey’s oddly touching fidelity in the midst of love and war promoted a disneyfied, yet gay, happily ever after; however, in the spirit of the German hero who dies trying, Henry Lee’s unshakeable innocence broke hearts as he died tragically coming out as he admitted "I love you" in the arms of his beloved.
Not unlike Voltaire’s message in Candide, Vahalla inspires living in the moment, content in one’s own community. Even as the character [sic] traveled from land to land and time to time, the play offers a glimpse of happiness in the earthly plane. The young war hero, who also doubled as Lohengrin, climbs the yellow-painted stairs to Valhalla; the daughter of Sally has journeyed to
to return the heart of Ludwig to the grotto where he had committed suicide. Just so, if one follows one’s heart’s desire, one love may achieve paradise in the vaulted heavens. Germany