Written and directed by Leif Ingebrigtsen
Featuring: Marc Ludwig, Cassie James, Amanda Neufeld, Mark Vetsch, Michael Vetsch
Stage manager: Kiidra Duhault
Designer: Stephanie Bahniuk
Fight director: Afton Rentz
Dramaturge: Ellen Chorley
Remaining shows: June 5 @ 4:30 p.m.; June 11 @ noon
In Echoes of a Lost King, we meet four friends who have grown up playing Dungeons & Dragons together and watch as their Friday evening get-together morphs from being about the game to being about resolving personal issues in an effort to take their friendship outside of the fantasy of the game and into the real world. Described in the NextFest program as ‘a new Dungeons & Dragons musical’, Leif Ingebrigtsen’s catchy songs are interspersed throughout the dialogue and fantastical fight scenes, moving the plot forward in a delightful and sometimes heartbreaking way.
I saw an excerpt from Echoes of a Lost King in last year’s NextFest Shorts, and it’s clear that a lot of work has been done on this show over the last year. For those who saw the Shorts last year, you’ll definitely remember the musical’s peppy opening number, which was stuck in my head for a few days last year (and I’m thinking it will be again this year). Of course, it’s hard to tell from the excerpt of the show we saw in the Shorts last year, but it seems as though a lot of depth has been added to the show and its characters as it has been developed over the last year. Echoes of a Lost King could risk being about four “nerds” completely absorbed in the world of Dungeons & Dragons, however, that idea is banished even from the opening number, as Mark Vetsch’s character reveals that tonight is about something more than the game. Over the course of the evening, we learn that as Mark’s character is packing up to move to Toronto, there are a few issues amongst his friends he wants to bring up before he leaves – all stemming from the same traumatic event, but manifesting in his friends in terms of alcoholism, reclusiveness, and avoidance instead of dealing with the emotions it has created.
Amongst these heavier subjects, the Dungeons & Dragons game comes to life with Michael Vetsch, Cassie James, Amanda Neufeld and Mark Vetsch playing double duty as their DND characters and Marc Ludwig serving in a variety of roles of the different characters they meet along the way – including a wonderfully exaggerated villainous bartender. As a non-Dungeons & Dragons player, Echoes of a Lost King did a really great job at showing me the drama, adventure and bonds of friendship the game holds for players, while also touching on the truth that any friendship or relationship can become about just one thing if you let it (in this case DND). Although the four main characters are friends in real life, they have let their friendship become all about the game and not about what’s happening with each other on a personal level. Mark Vetsch’s character’s desire to stage an intervention of sorts for all of the challenges he sees his friends facing holds the potential for a great story and results in some touching moments, but in this production of Echoes of a Lost King, I wanted to see more of a resolution or exploration of these issues – the drama seemed to climax at naming the problems, versus an exploration of the trauma they are stemming from.
The actors in this show all did a great job of bringing their characters to life. Mark Vetsch was perfect as the oldest one of the group – the Dad both in his real life and amongst his friends, seeing past the tactics they use to cover up what’s going on inside. Michael Vetsch in the role of Hunter, who is dealing with his emotions by becoming a recluse, does a great job of showing a happy exterior and painfully reaching out to try to connect on a deeper level with his friends. While their characters were opposite in some ways – Cassie James as the shy ‘younger sister’ character and Amanda Neufeld as the tough-shelled, boisterous woman with maybe a bit of a drinking problem – they were both awesome vocalists, knocking every song they sang out of the park. In particular, Cassie’s solo is definitely one of the most touching moments of the show. Finally, I loved the attention to detail in this show, even down to the fact that stage hand Andrea Murphy helping change out the set is in a DND-inspired costume.
Remaining shows of Echoes of a Lost King are June 5 at 4:30 p.m. and June 11 at noon in the auditorium at Faculté St. Jean (8406 91 street). Tickets are $10 per show, $18 for a day pass or $40 for a festival pass and can be bought online, by phone (780.453.2440), or in-person at Faculté St. Jean 30 minutes before the performance.