Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain (Joey Flint, left) battles an ogre in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain (Joey Flint, left) battles an ogre in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Photo by Taylor Leach

Sir Gawain (Joey Flint, left) battles an ogre in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Photo by Taylor Leach

Photo by Taylor Leach

Sir Gawain (Joey Flint, left) battles an ogre in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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The Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC)– now in its newly inaugurated Helen Borgers Theatre– offers an annual holiday show, often different from the usual sugary fare. This year, it’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a one-hour Arthurian romance with bonus joking and caroling. Four players with good timing and excellent singing voices entertain while conveying Sir Gawain’s epic quest to overcome, not only monsters, but also his own moral weaknesses.

The energetic players are aided by creative video projection of various locations, including a castle with a moving drawbridge and a green chapel, where Gawain’s (Joey Flint) quest culminates. Initiating his journey is the mysterious and imposing Green Knight (Tim Bob), who finds Gawain playing games with King Arthur (Wyatt Najarian) and Queen Guinevere (Annie Quigley) and tasks Gawain to sever his head, which he then holds in his hand while, not only talking, but also singing a carol. (It’s that kind of play.)

Gawain and his steed face various challenges on the way to meet the Green Knight at the green chapel, including fighting a formidable dragon and a terrible ogre. But Gawain’s greatest trial will be to resist the very forward advances of the comely lady of the castle (Quigley), where he stays for three nights while her lord (Bob) goes hunting. Each morning, Gawain must account for his behavior by exchanging whatever he “received” with what the lord has killed.

Photo by Jackie Teeple
Joey Flint (left) and Annie Quigley (right) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

But Gawain’s even higher sense of honor is questioned later at the green chapel, in a test of whether he is indeed worthy of being a knight of Arthur’s round table.

While adults will more likely grasp the deeper nature of Gawain’s trials (and appreciate how he evades the lady’s seductions)– and certainly chuckle at the jokes– children will be thrilled by the ghastly beheading with a gigantic axe, the heroic battling against dragon and ogre and the magic of green belts.

All will enjoy the lovely Christmas carols interspersed throughout the tale, accompanied simply by ukulele (Quigley) and flute (Flint). Quigley’s voice is richly angelic, though all hold their own in these mostly familiar tunes, one of which (“Little Drummer Boy”) is an audience sing-along.

Humor is also pronounced and often tongue-in-cheek, with lots of winks and silly props. In his director’s notes, Brandon Cutts credits the late Helen Borgers, the theatre’s former artistic director, with rewriting the medieval poem in an accessible way, complete with slapstick and satire.

The four actors rise to the challenge spiritedly, seemingly enjoying their roles and frequent costumes changes. Flint shines as Gawain– delivering jokes, baring his chest and breaking the fourth wall. Quigley excels as the coy but wily lady. Najarian exudes unflagging energy, whether as Arthur or hunted forest animals, and Bob embodies his larger-than-life role well, though it was sometimes difficult to get his lines out on opening weekend.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is thus a different sort of holiday classic, but one you will ultimately enjoy, rather like green eggs and ham. It’s a reminder that there is a deeper dimension to the holidays, amid its dragons and delights.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight continues at the Helen Borgers Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., through Dec. 16, with shows Fridays at 8pm (except Dec. 7), Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $22.50 ($12.50 for students). For tickets and information, call (562) 997-1494 or visit LBShakespeare.org.