The Knight Of The Burning Pestle by Theatre Pro Rata, performing at Dreamland Arts

Rachel Flynn, George Dornbach and Ben Tallen in The Knight Of The Burning Pestle. Photo by Chales Gorrill.

Rachel Flynn, George Dornbach and Ben Tallen in The Knight Of The Burning Pestle. Photo by Charles Gorrill.

Ah, Dreamland Arts. Leslye Orr and Zaraawar Mistry’s wonderful performance space on leafy Hamline Avenue in St. Paul. Intimate – I’d be amazed if it seats more than 50 – comfortable, perfect. I adore it.

Stomping its theatrical way into this jewel box comes Theatre Pro Rata‘s clutch-popping The Knight Of The Burning Pestle. Look out, Dreamland. These people are dangerous.

Pestle is an unusual play if ever there was one. Written in 1607 by Francis Beaumont (and published in 1613), The Knight Of The Burning Pestle is a bizarre play-within-the-play. Not really Jacobean and by no means modern, Pestle concerns the (successful) efforts of a pair of coarse-but-wealthy shop-owners to hijack a play (called The London Merchant) and insert into it their (quite talented) apprentice, Rafe, playing the eponymous pestle-bearing knight.

(BTW, FWIW and FYI, Jacobean audiences, being ultra-sensitive to wordplay, would certainly have noted and been affected by the pestle-pizzle (penis) connection. I was certainly hyper-aware of it)

Anyhow, the two shopkeepers, Nell and George, overdressed and overweight (they, and we, owe a huge debt to costumist Mandi Johnson), loud and lusty, sit on the edge of the playing space, spouting shrill comments – and making us howl. As the couple, Ben Tallen and Rachel Flynn give hootful performances. They keep the play focused which, in this case, means careeningly out-of-control.

Director Amber Bjork goes for baroque, and the performances are creative and wonderful and highly energetic. I was especially taken by (especially) George Dornbach, who gives the knight a lovely Buster Keaton quality. Every time he tosses back his head to adjust his flowing locks I laughed.

And the quiet Becca Hart proves that by underplaying you can steal a play.

But: The Knight Of The Burning Pestle is campy. Stilted and self-referential. Camp may be you cup of tea, but, it sorrows me to say, it’s not mine and the whole thing seemed like a loooooooong Pyramus And Thisbe. And if you can follow The London Merchant, your powers of concentration are far greater than mine. Luckily, Pestle is performed sans intermission.

Still, the actors have a terrific time, and their joy is infectious. The Knight Of The Burning Pestle runs through June 19.

And Dreamland Arts is, well, dreamy.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book about the magic of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has been published. The Sisters Eight will be presented in December by First Stage Milwaukee. johnolive.net.

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