Briana Patnode as Lucidius, the titular coward, who would rather write and eat desserts than face his enemies in combat.
I went to this show intending to write notes. I really had lots of notes planned. Really. I wanted to write about its examination of gender roles. I hoped to say a few things about the script by Nick Jones, and the unspoken guarantee of a stellar cast that one gets from a Walking Shadow production. Then there was the set design and, more notably, the blood design. (Yes, this show has a blood designer. It's goremaster Tyler Olsen of RawRedMeat Productions.)
I couldn't focus on any of that, though, because 'the Coward' was so good that I could barely look away. Although I'd gone there to take notes, I got so busy watching the show that there was hardly time to stop and write. So, most of this review is going to be done from memory.
Here's how the story plays out: A young, cowardly noble living in the golden age of dueling tries to prove his mettle by getting into a fight with an elderly man, whose son then challenges the noble to a retaliatory duel. Knowing he won't stand a chance, the noble hires a stand-in to fight for him. His surrogate wins, and everything goes downhill for the noble from there.
The show itself plays like an old Masterpiece feature, sans bowdlerizing, that refuses to be taken seriously. (Not that 'the Coward' should be. This period piece is a love letter to the art of slapstick. It's more of an homage to the Three Stooges than anything else; although where Larry, Moe and Curly would've thrown pies, 'the Coward' throws blood.)
The layers of comedic and dramatic devices in this production are too many and too tied-together to account, and they work really well. The only glitches I found were the stuff one expects from a live show: A fumbled prop here, a misspoken line there. Those could hardly be counted, though, because the actors worked them into the action and dialogue the few times they happened.
Highlights included the cast, the set design, sound design, costumes, lighting, props... Alright, let's face it: Everything in this show is a highlight. From the first line to the big, bloody climax, 'the Coward' is a pretty much flawless comedy.
If you're squeamish around ridiculous amounts of fake blood, skip this one. Otherwise, here's my best advice: Opening night sold out and there was only one open seat the next night. This is a show that pretty much everyone wants to see, so get your tickets in advance.
With: Briana Patnode, Jean Wolff, Charlotte Calvert, Suzie Juul, Shelby Rose Richardson, Debra Berger, Suzanne Victoria Cross, Linda Sue Anderson, Chase Burns
When: Thurs through Sat at 7:30 p.m. until Feb 28th. (Additional shows: Feb 25th at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinee Feb 22nd at 3:00 p.m. Pay what you can Feb 9th at 7:30 p.m.)
Where: Red Eye Theater, 15 West 14th Street, MPLS
Tickets: $10-$26. www.walkingshadowcompany.org