Theatrical productions of all sorts come through Miami often. But one that strives for innovation within a time-worn structures is a rare thing. The Hammer Trinity, by director Nathan Allen and writer Chris Matthews of the House Theatre of Chicago, is being billed by the Adrienne Arsht Center as "the theatrical event of the year" — a boast that is not too far off.
Comprising three full-length plays (The Iron Stag King, The Crownless King, and The Excelsior King), it acts as one massive work similar to The Lord of the Rings. It is truly an experience. Together, all three productions, along with their intermissions, span nine hours that seem to go by in a breeze. The storyline crafts a grand-scale universe while maintaining the intimacy of the small-scale theater in which it takes place.
Seated on cushioned chairs, the audience is launched into a realm of epic fantasy. The tale is about a young man named Casper Kent, who discovers he is the rightful heir to the crown and the titular hammer that would allow him to rule the kingdom. But as the play makes known, "the truth seldom comes from the mouth of one man."
Co-writers Allen and Matthews draw from mythical narratives far and wide to craft a world of their own. Matthews says, "We were curious to see what would happen if we took this story and transplanted it in a mythic proto-America, which seemed to present a lot of interesting conflict in terms of that fairy tale we all know and love being in contradiction with the very genesis of our founding.”
Populating the stage are cowboys, pirates, vikings, warriors, dragons, chess players, politicians, kings, queens, and foxes — all of whom evoke fondness and loathing from the viewer. As contrasting as they are, the players still work well together in a strangely fascinating manner. And so, in its three parts, The Hammer Trinity tells many stories and introduces more than a dozen characters portrayed by an ensemble that shift roles effortlessly.
Those actors who bounced onto new roles as their initial character was eliminated performed just as dutifully as those who lived on throughout. “We wanted a full, well-complemented ensemble of characters to fall in love with and to view the story through their prism of participation instead of just being centered around the ‘hero,’” Matthews explained. “In a lot of ways, the show is about perspective and the way we interpret stories — from which point of view they’re being angled at us and from which point of view we’re angled at to receive them.”
So audience members will find themselves rooting for one hero over another as arrows, bullets, and all manner of creatures fly across the stage and the actors fall to the beautifully choreographed action.
Each break allows audiences to interact with the actors. Many guests can pitch theories about who will live or die in the next act or simply joke with the characters. This added experience is part of what makes the play enjoyable and intimate. The production itself often toys with what constitutes reality while still contributing to the fantastical nature of the stories unfolding.
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The sound design affects every motion and brings to life the puppetry that fills the stage. The costumes, especially, add to the notion of the play being lost in time. Modern clothing was often adapted to fit the far-fetched outfits one expects all these contrasting cultures to wear.
Though it may not be for everyone, The Hammer Trinity is the kind of play that can, and will, inspire excitement in audience members. During a recent showing, young adults cheered wildly, while kids gasped in awe at the action. Older women made bold comments about hoping for a dragon to roast someone.
Playwrights Allen and Matthews have proven themselves the most competent dungeon masters in live theater by offering Miamians the Dungeons and Dragons campaign that nerds wish they could devise on their own — warts and all.
The Hammer Trinity
Saturday and Sunday through May 8 at the Arsht Center. The first showing begins at 1 p.m. Tickets cost $55 per individual play or $150 for the full-day experience. Discounted $20 tickets are avaialble for certain engagements for students through Arsht UTIX. Visit arshtcenter.org.