Review: Hedgerow debuts interesting ‘Prisoner of Zenda’

By Christina Perryman

Hedgerow Theatre Company recently debuted a world premiere of Anthony Hope’s “The Prisoner of Zenda.” Adapted and directed by Matt Tallman, the show packs a punch with plenty of romance, laughs and several entertaining fight scenes, well choreographed by Jacqueline Holloway.

“The Prisoner of Zenda” chronicles the adventures of Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman who takes a fateful trip to watch the coronation of his cousin, also named Rudolf, the future king of Ruritania. When Rudolf arrives in the country, he looks so like the king, that he is often mistaken for the man, even by the king’s assistant, Fritz. When King Rudolf discovers Rassendyll, he invites his cousin to the family lodge. After a night a drinking and carousing, Rassendyll passes out. King Rudolf receives a visitor, sent by his half-brother, the dreaded Black Michael. The woman, Black Michael’s mistress, gives Rudolf a bottle of poisoned wine. Rudolf passes out and is found in the morning, the day of the coronation, by Rassendyll and Fritz.

Allison Bloechl, Josh Portera and Mark Swift as villains in “The Prisoner of Zenda” at Hedgerow Theatre.

Fritz, panicked, begs Rassendyll to assume the king’s place, just for the day, so the coronation can continue as planned. Fritz explains if Rudolf is a not show, Black Michael will take his place and be crowned king. Rassendyll agrees, but, of course, nothing goes as planned. Black Michael’s henchmen and women find King Rudolf and kidnap him, Rassendyll falls in love with Rudolf’s intended, Princess Flavia, and Fritz finds his inner warrior when cornered. Can Rassendyll and Fritz save the king? Will Black Michael and his evil plans succeed? Who really is the play’s villain? All the answers are found at Hedgerow.

The premise of the show is interesting and all the components to make it compelling are there. However, the cast of five, Allison Bloechl (Hentzau and others), Josh Portera (Black Michael and others), Anna Marie Sell (Flavia and others), Mark Swift (Fritz and others) and Matt Tallman (Rassendyll and Rudolf), each play multiple parts, a tactic Hedgerow seems to be relying on a lot recently. Shows like that are entertaining and can allow the cast to stretch their abilities, but too often and this type of play gets old. Tallman’s adaptation is solid, although the show comes off more as a farce than an adventure. Some of the direction is a little questionable. Several of the characters are played too over the top and could get better laughs if toned down a bit. Tallman and Sell were excellent. Tallman’s Rassendyll and Rudolf were polar opposites in demeanor, expression and body language. The scenes where both were “present” were well done. Sell’s Flavia was gentle and regal for most of the show. Bloechl was a fierce and intimidating warrior as Hentzau. Swift was comical as Fritz. Portera’s devious Michael was was the perfect black sheep.

Good lights and sound by Jared Reed and wonderful costumes by Sarah Mitchell compliment the play.

“The Prisoner of Zenda” runs at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, through April 30. Tickets are $34 for adults, $31 for seniors and $20 for students and those under age 30. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. For tickets or information, call the box office at 610-565-4211 or visit Tickets ($75 each) are also on sale through Hedgerow’s website for the theater’s 94th birthday celebration/fundraiser, 6-9 p.m., Thursday, April 20.