Bob Goepfert: Clever Staging, Talented Cast Can't Save "Percival"

Jul 11, 2019

The publicity for “The Enlightenment of Percival Von Schmootz,” a new musical playing at Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Fall describes it as Monty Python Meets the Dark Ages.Perhaps a better analogy would be Monty Python Meets Voltaire.

The work, which is as artificial as its name implies, seems a kissing cousin to “Candide.”   

Both works center on an optimistic but naive young man who travels the world seeking to find goodness, happiness and a purpose to life. 

Instead, he discovers that human kind is cruel, savage, uncivilized and that life is random.  Mostly the causes of  such misery are social institutions that are self-serving, corrupt or just plain inept.

For Percival, his journey involves meeting up with a band of traveling bad actors, a knight who by his sense Divine Right slaughters innocents, a band of zealot nuns and a king who rules by whim.   Throughout his journey he always meets Hildegard, a woman with whom he falls in love.

Voltaire created his story in 1759 to saterize religion, politics and optimism.   “Percival” takes on the same topics circa 2019.

However, where “Candide” is cynical funny, and thoughtful, “Percival”is merely silly hit-or-miss funny - with more misses than hits.

Indeed, here’s where the marketing department gets it right- there’s lot of Monty Python in the script.  Not only is the play filled with dense people who fail to see the obvious, there are female roles played by actors who are men.  The most obvious is the Mother Superior, who leads a convent of nuns who can’t wait to be martyred.

Indeed, there is one scene during Percival’s knight phase, in which he has both arms cut off and continues to battle.   For the squeamish, you might want to know the arms are miraculously put back, and Percival learning to manipulate them is one of the funnier moments in the show.

Kyle Sherman is a charming Percival, who is able to show his character growing throughout the 100-minute offering.  He even finds a thoughtful maturity at the ill-advised final scene that dampens any fun that came earlier.

It is, perhaps, a needed moment to make the point that life as a whole is mess.   Happy events are rare and must be appreciated before they are lost.   The play says that we should live life for those moments.

It’s a wise philosophy that is enhanced by some very good music created by Michael Kooman and Christopher Diamond.   

Adding to the potential is there is a lot of clever staging by director Scott Weinstein and its all performed exceedingly well by a talented cast.

It’s disappointing that it isn’t a more enjoyable experience. 

“The Enlightenment of Percival Von Schmootz” plays at the Wood Theatre  in Glens Falls through July 13.   For tickets and schedule call 518-480-4878 or go to Atfestival.org 

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

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