Action Theatre III: "HMS Barnacle" and "Catalan Grand"/Dirk and Guido: The Swordsmen! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Action Theatre III: "HMS Barnacle" and "Catalan Grand"/Dirk and Guido: The Swordsmen! 

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Action Theatre III: "HMS Barnacle" and "Catalan Grand," R&D Choreography's Fight Shop Stage Combat Studio, at Chase Park, and Dirk and Guido: The Swordsmen!, Noble Fool Theater Company. War is in the air--and on the boards. Richard Gilbert and David Bareford, the gurus behind R&D Choreography, have created a 75-minute sign-interpreted showcase of their "violence design"; original one-acts provide narration and context. Easily the more playful and entertaining, "HMS Barnacle" is a tongue-in-cheek action-packed romance as full of puns as punches. In this mating swashbuckler, the sword fights, pistol duels, and other pyrotechnics are anchored in the droll antics of an intrepid captain (Brad Wadle) in search of the beautiful Treasure Chest (Dawn Waters).

With its broadswords, hatchets, pikes, maces, and shields, the lumbering "Catalan Grand" clumsily celebrates the bravery of the title troupe, 13th-century Spanish mercenaries who end up fighting both infidel Turks and the treacherous Byzantine prince who employs them. Unfortunately the stiff dialogue seems insufficient excuse for the exciting combat sequences. James Klock rampages well as the Catalan chieftain, but someone needs to blow the cobwebs off this musty story.

The Swordsmen are pros. A staple at Renaissance Faires from Maine to San Diego, the two have created a two-act, two-hour tour de force, subtitled "Bold and Stupid Men at Your Service," that combines streetwise neovaudeville with old-fashioned swordsmanship. Both spoofing and celebrating masculine gallantry, the Swordsmen blend impulsive idiocy with split-second timing and their own brand of cavalier cool.

Clad in Elizabethan doublets, boots, gloves, and "the tights of justice," foppish Dirk Perfect (Douglas R. Mumaw) and idealizing lover Guido Crescendo (David Woolley) have perfected over 14 summers the kind of hilarious partnership that shows in a thousand good-hearted ways: they effortlessly switch from offering male audience members lessons in macho swagger, elegant laughter, and friction-free courtship to conducting a poetry slam that ends with a rapier-and-dagger fight. Dirk and Guido skirt the salacious, but there's still plenty of horseplay amid the swordplay.

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