A joyful celebration of the universal capacity to improvise, this delightful Elizabethan comedy is a rough and rowdy romp filled with MUSIC and MERRIMENT! As a group of players gathers to present a play about the elopement of star-crossed lovers, they are abruptly interrupted by a grocer and his wife. They have a different kind of play in mind–an outrageous hero’s quest of derring-do…The Knight of the Burning Pestle. And they know just the fellow to star–their apprentice, Rafe. This new subplot–invented on the fly–takes over the stage in surprising and disruptive ways.
Two acclaimed companies join forces for the first time to make magic! "For twenty years, RED BULL has, thankfully, continued to keep many great classic plays alive for contemporary audiences." FIASCO has "quickly become a force to reckon with in American theater.” (The New York Times) EVERYONE will share in the triumph of love and the singular, anything-can-happen adventure that is LIVE THEATER.
The Knight of the Burning Pestle is presented by Red Bull Theater in association with Fiasco Theater.
THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE
By Francis Beaumont
Directed by Noah Brody & Emily Young
Scenery | Christopher Swader & Justin Swader
Costumes | Yvonne Miranda
Lighting | Reza Behjat
Props | Samantha Shoffner
Production Stage Manager | Chandalae Nyswonger
Paul L. Coffey
Devin E. Haqq
Teresa Avia Lim
"We couldn’t be happier to be partnering with Fiasco Theater for The Knight of the Burning Pestle. It’s a play about the power of improvisation and Fiasco is known for its ensemble-driven work and joyful creativity. This play seems to have been written for their unique talents––400 years before they were founded."
–JESSE BERGER | Founder & Artistic Director
ABOUT FIASCO THEATER
FIASCO THEATER is an ensemble theater company based in NYC that offers dynamic, joyful, actor-driven productions, and the highest quality, accessible, affordable training for emerging artists. Fiasco produces annual programming by developing shows through the internal development series, GroundWork, as well as year-round readings and workshops that are open to the public; including the workshop production initiative Without a Net. Additionally, they partner with other theaters who present and/or co-produce Fiasco productions. Presenting partner theaters in NYC have included Classic Stage Company, TFANA, New Victory and Roundabout Theatre, where Fiasco serves as the first-ever Company in Residence. The Fiasco Conservatory training program offers emerging artists the chance to train full-time in Fiasco’s joy-based, actor-centered approach to theater-making. Fiasco’s Free Training Initiative offers students a primer in Fiasco’s rehearsal approach completely free of charge to all. To date, the company’s award-winning work has been seen by over 200,000 audience members in NYC, including over 12,000 school children, and The New York Times has called Fiasco “a force to reckon with in the American theater.”
ABOUT THE PLAY
The only play Beaumont wrote entirely by himself, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, is an hilarious exploration of theater-making on steroids. In one plot actors attempt to put on The London Merchant, in which the rich merchant Venturewell tries to marry his daughter, Luce, to Humphrey, an ineffectual gentleman. Luce would rather marry the more glamorous Jasper, the merchant’s apprentice, but Jasper is poor and socially inconsequential. In typical city comedy fashion, The London Merchant pits love against money and rank. Two audience members, a grocer and his outspoken wife, however, constantly interrupt this play, climbing onto the stage with the gentlemen auditors to give orders about what they would rather see. Assuming that The London Merchant will simply satirize citizens, they want a play in which the hero is a grocer who does remarkable feats: rescuing damsels in distress, saving the city from its enemies, journeying to foreign lands. They thrust their man, Rafe, onto the stage to be that hero, someone who like Dick Whittington will represent the common people’s valor and values.
The result is a theatrical farrago but one that reveals what different things theater audiences want, just like today. Some want Broadway musicals, others the classics revived, others avant-garde experiments. Tastes are shaped by all sorts of things, including one’s social background or familiarity with playgoing. The Knight of the Burning Pestle acknowledges that fact while simultaneously having fun satirizing both types of play. The satire begins with Beaumont’s title. Grocers used a mortar and pestle to grind spices and other foodstuffs. Rafe, as a representative of the grocer’s guild, wields a pestle as his chief weapon, an object no true chivalric hero would touch. Moreover, pestle puns with pizzle (an early modern word for penis), and a burning pestle suggests an inflamed or diseased appendage. The grocer and his wife, moreover, can’t distinguish between plays and real life, frequently breaking into the action to address the characters directly, the wife giving them advice, for example, on home remedies to help them recover from their stage wounds. But if Rafe, the grocer, and his wife are frequently the butt of audience laughter, gentlemen characters fare little better. Humphrey is both a terrible lover and a terrible poet, telling Luce the cost of the gloves he has bought her and expressing his passion in bathetic rhyming couplets. Jasper, the romantic lead, proves a dud in his own right. Having won Luce’s love, he then decides to “test” her love by pretending he will kill her since loving her has cost him his position in Venturewell’s household.
While the play was supposedly a failure when first put on by the Children of Blackfriars in 1607, no one, despite many theories, really knows why. Its theatrical potential is immense. The greatest pleasure it affords audiences, I would argue, lies in the exuberance with which Beaumont dramatized the fun of making theater, however silly the plots. Actors sing; in fact, Jasper’s Father, old Merrythought, does almost nothing but sing. Actors dress up; Rafe “with guilded staff and crossed scarf” personates the Lord of May. Actors wear make-up; Jasper, pretending to be a ghost, enters “his face mealed” or covered with flour. Actors avail themselves of props; Rafe, leading the citizen militia at Miles End, enters “with drums and colors”; Rafe, ordered by the grocer’s wife to come in at the end and die, enters “with a forked arrow through his head.” What fun to do these things; what fun to watch them, especially when performed by precocious boy actors. Who can resist this wonderful paean to playing?
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Francis Beaumont was born in Leicestershire in 1584 and moved to London to enter Inner Temple in 1600. While studying to be a lawyer, Beaumont published the erotic poem Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (1602), but soon turned his hand to the stage. A friend and acolyte of Ben Jonson (for whose Volpone he wrote commendatory verse), he went on to form one of the most famous playwriting partnerships in English literary history with John Fletcher. The pair collaborated on a series of plays for The King’s Men (Shakespeare’s company), which were performed at The Globe, The Blackfriars, and the court of James I. Yet it is the solo-authored The Knight of the Burning Pestle, apparently a flop on its first performance by the Children of the Revels at Blackfriars in 1607, upon which Beaumont’s reputation as a playwright rests. Beaumont left London around 1613, and died in 1616, the same year as Shakespeare.
ABOUT THE DIRECTORS
Noah Brody is an actor, director, teacher, and writer, and is co-artistic director of Fiasco Theater. For Fiasco he has directed Merrily We Roll Along (Roundabout). He co-directed and acted in Fiasco's productions of Into the Woods (McCarter, Old Globe, Roundabout, Menier Chocolate Factory), The Imaginary Invalid (Old Globe), Measure for Measure (New Victory, Long Wharf), Twelfth Night (Classic Stage Co.), and Cymbeline (TFANA, Barrow St. Theatre). For Fiasco he has also appeared in Fiasco’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona (Folger Theatre, TFANA) and co-directed the national tour of Fiasco’s production of Into the Woods. As a writer, he co-conceived the new musical Pleasure Never Lies with Marshall Hagins; is currently co-creating a musical adaptation of My Antonia with Jessie Austrian and the Kilbanes and a stage adaptation of Bartleby the Scrivener with Paul L. Coffey.
Emily Young is an actor, musician, writer, director and educator. She is one of Fiasco Theater’s original company members. For Fiasco: Queen/Belaria, Cymbeline; Little Red Riding Hood/Rapunzel, Into the Woods; Isabella/Mistress Overdone, Measure for Measure; Sylvia/Lucetta, Two Gentlemen of Verona; Toinette, Imaginary Invalid; Viola, Twelfth Night; Gussie, Merrily We Roll Along; Broadway: How I Learned to Drive u/s, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; Off-Broadway: The Servant of Two Masters, Romeo and Juliet, Colorado. Regional: Trinity Repertory Company, Folger Theater, McCarter Theater, Old Globe, North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, Illinois Shakespeare Festival. As a director: Spring Awakening at Ohio Northern University, Fiasco readings, The Lucky Chance, Sight Unseen. TV/Film: Living With Yourself, The Knick, God of Love.
CAST OF CHARACTERS in alphabetical order
Nell | JESSIE AUSTRIAN
Michael, Little George, Servant | ROYER BOCKUS
Venturewell, Host | TINA CHILIP
Humphrey, Tapster | PAUL L. COFFEY
Jasper, Barbaroso | DEVIN E. HAQQ
Luce | TERESA AVIA LIM
George | DARIUS PIERCE
Old Merrythought, Tim | BEN STEINFELD
Rafe | PACO TOLSON
Mistress Merrythought | TATIANA WECHSLER
Directors | Noah Brody & Emily Young
Scenic Design | Christopher Swader & Justin Swader
Costume Design | Yvonne Miranda
Lighting Design | Reza Bahjat
Properties Design | Samantha Shoffner
Production Stage Manager | Chandalae Nyswonger
Assistant Stage Manager | Denise Cardarelli
General Manager | Sherri Kotimsky
Fiasco Theater Managing Producer | B.J. Evans
Production Manager | Gary Levinson
Press Representative | David Gersten & Associates
Key Art Design | Jules Talbot
Production Video | Bardo Arts/Alex Pearlman
Production Photography | Carol Rosegg
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