According to the man on stage telling the story, he, Joe Brack, became obsessed with the film The Princess Bride when he was a boy struggling with various physical and social problems whiles growing up in the Boston area. The 1987 film featured a grandfather reading a story to his ill grandson–a sweeping story of adventure, heroics and romance that sometimes fell away to reveal its framing device. Joe Brack, an actor who has previously worked in the Triangle, but who now lives and works in Washington, DC (where he has done a lot of work at respected venues like the Studio, Theatre J and Constellation) conceived his one-man show, My Princess Bride, along the same lines. Like a man reading from a book, he performs all the characters, but frequently falls back to work his own story into the braid of narrative. Directed by Matty Griffiths of City Artistic Partnerships, Brack premiered the work at the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival. He and Griffiths took the show to Greensboro Fringe in January, and will go on to Greenville, SC after the run ends Feb. 17 at Durham’s Common Ground Theatre.
Brack is, in a sense, a contemporary troubadour in t-shirt and wrinkled work pants, spreading the courtly tale of true love around the countryside. There are many echoes in Princess Bride of the great 12th century romance of Tristan and Iseult, although Brack eschews the elegance inherent in that tale (which was brought out with such aching beauty in David Lang’s love fail as sung by Anonymous Four). But Brack’s version includes all the great themes and motifs: lovers separated; a quest; capture by pirates; love persistent; escape; battles with giants; sword-fighting; lovers reunited–the whole nine yards. It is the interlacing of his own (so he says) story with that of the movie and book (although he uses a prop book by a different “author” on stage) that makes this into an experimental theater piece.
Brack not only tells bits about himself (or about someone he’s made up, perhaps–can you ever really know about actors?) and his own struggles to be a heroic character in his own life, but speaks directly to the sound board operator (reminding us that this is theater) and to the audience about their reactions. It’s playful, in a jabbing, aggressive way, and makes a good parallel to all the fencing in the inner story. The fencing scenes (remember, this is one person) are the most visually interesting of the show. Brack has nice style, and obviously relishes whipping the sword around. A few more props and costume items would not have come amiss, and would have aided in discerning which character is speaking. Brack has a voice for each, but sometimes in rapid action they got blurred.
Brack’s voice is his great tool here, and he has almost too much of it for the small room at Common Ground. He can be subtle, but often prefers to shout, and from the front row was often overwhelming. Yet the show is peppered with delightful, charming moments, and one leaves smiling. Ah, love. It conquers all.