By: Darryl Reilly
A zany codpiece, a swirling pointy-tailed cap and a sly jester puppet head on a stick, are features of virtuoso costume designer Elena Vannoni’s fabulous bright two-tone Harlequin-style ensemble that the animated and lithe Steve Weatherbee wears as the jester during playwright T.J. Elliott’s antic fantasia The Jester’s Wife; it is based on the 7th century tale of the martyrdom of the Irish St. Dymphna.
Mr. Weatherbee’s expressive voice, fluid physicality and boyish charm, all inform his engaging characterization. Clad in Ms. Vannoni’s lustrous red dress, the captivating Emma Taylor Miller is an exceptional foil as the saucy jester’s wife. Ms. Miller’s appealing vocal delivery ranges from deadpan to emotional and complements her glittering presence. Dressed in Vannoni’s glorious buccaneer-type outfit, the charismatic Xander Jackson plays the narrator and then a pirate. Mr. Jackson’s booming voice and magnetic stage persona are irresistible. The Jester’s Wife succeeds as a spirited experience due to the grand performances of Weatherbee, Miller, and Jackson, and their palpable rapport.
In the 600’s, the recently widowed and desolate King Damon of Ireland has sexual desires for his 15-year-old daughter, Dymphna, and plans to marry her. Horrified at her father’s intentions, she flees to Belgium with a retinue including a priest, two servants and the court jester. King Damon pursues them, captures them and beheads the priest and Dymphna. She was canonized in 620.
The Jester’s Wife is performed on a dazzling white set created by scenic designer Gloria Novi, depicting a cave in Belgium. There are artful stalagmites and a round portal to the outside where offstage actions are indicated. Taylor Lilly’s steady lighting design bathes the stage in brightness and fluctuating dimness. Sound designer Margaret Montagna renders music and effects with flare. Technical and artistic direction is by Gifford Elliott.
Director T.J. Elliott’s snappy and visually attentive staging mines all the piece’s humor with punchy physical sequences, while also evoking pathos. Mr. Elliott’s playwrighting contains zesty dialogue, vivid characters, and a creative historical slant. Structurally though, the play is patchy. It begins with a funny narrator setting it all up and concludes with an absorbing segment where the characters put on a play dramatizing the story of Dymphna. In between, there is circuitousness which overlengthens the show. Still, The Jester’s Wife has its plentiful theatrical virtues.
The Jester’s Wife (through October 8, 2023)
Knowledge Workings Theater
36th Street Theater, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit www.knowledgeworkings.com
Running time: 95 minutes without an intermission