There will probably be no other show at the Capital Fringe Festival this year more earnest than Tim Caron’s “The Knights of Salisbury,” a coming-of-age musical set in coastal Massachusetts in the summer of 1968.
The large cast brings great heart and great energy to this familiar story of a group of teenagers starting a band in that last summer before they all go their separate ways. (While Caron’s Summer of ’68 predates the Bryan Adams song by a year, their stories are basically the same.)
The large cast brings great heart and great energy…
But heart and energy are not enough to carry a 100-minute musical. The live band drowned out Nadine Foty and Mohamed Hafez’s duet in the very first moments of the show; several audience members moved to the other side of the theatre space to get farther away from the music just to try to understand the words.
Volume is an issue throughout the show. With electric guitars and drums used for just about every song, the singers would have been well-served with body mics. And while the four cast members portraying the eponymous band belted out their lyrics in their concert scenes, they sang much more quietly in the show’s other numbers. There were entire songs where I could not tell what was being expressed.
The actors were often tentative in the delivery of their spoken dialogue as well. In one scene, band member Mike’s mother is confronting him about some of his lyrics — but since her lines were delivered so quietly, I did not hear what specifically was troubling her.
Key to the plot is that Foty and Hafez, as Mike’s neighbors, are invited to manage the new band. Caron based them on his own parents and on Bruce Springsteen’s experience with his own first band. But here, it seems abrupt and confusing: It’s revealed that they did not know each other that well before the proposal, and in fact it comes when Hafez’s character comes over to complain about the noise.
There is laudable diversity in the casting, though I was unsure if Caron and co-director Ilyana Rose-Dávila were going for race- and gender-blind casting or not. I had assumed Larissa Dowling’s character Danny was male, since Danny was enlisting to go to Vietnam and seemed to anticipate combat. (Of the approximately 11,000 military women who served in Vietnam, about 90 percent served as nurses, with most of the others in specialized roles that would require at least a college degree.) But in a final scene, Danny is referred to as female.
The show as a whole is somewhat blind to the broader world of its time; the summer of 1968 was the most violent time in America in the second half of the 20th century, but none of this seeps into Salisbury’s consciousness.
Other moments similarly strained chronological credulity. One teenage character had never heard of the Beatles — in 1968. Even if not a fan, this is improbable; you don’t have to like hip hop to have heard of Kanye. Danny is preparing to ship out knowing only that Vietnam has “palm trees” and believing there are not many big battles going on there. Again, in 1968.
“The Knights of Salisbury” has passion and sincerity behind it. But that is not enough to recommend it.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Advisory: Recommended for all ages.
“The Knights of Salisbury” at Westminster Presbyterian Church Pickle, 400 I Street SW in Washington, will run through July 21. For tickets and more information, click here.