King of Bangor by Lee Gambin Review

[Centre is Peter Berzanskis as Stephen King with Mim Mim behind him. Photo credit: Tim Chmielewski]

King of Bangor by Lee Gambin.
Bella Union

Haunted by his life’s work Stephen King sits alone drinking at his typewriter. But is he ever really alone? For the ghosts of his fiction rise out of his subconscious, characters questioning his writing, his motivations and his direction as an author. King of Bangor by Lee Gambin is a dramatic one-act play that unravels the work and the man that is Stephen King.

Throughout we are treated to characters from his novels including Carrie, Misery, Salem’s Lot, Cujo, Christine and The Running Man. Their appearances are sometimes loud, sometimes creeping, perhaps ‘real’ for a moment before slipping into a fictional reality. Some are angry at Stephen King for his work, others upset, others mocking. It is testament however to the strength of the writing and the structural integrity of the work that not knowing all these references does not necessarily spoil the performance. It is an intriguing tapestry of characters and all are performed with considerable panache by the excellent ensemble cast.

Anchoring the play is Peter Berzanskis who as Stephen King is left helpless and a little reeling as his fiction unleashes its fury. As the focal point of the work he is a strong presence and manages to pull of inciting a mix of pathos and contempt for his character from the audience. Around him circle an excellent ensemble Tamara Donnellan is by turns cloying and bubbly; Mim injects powerful malice with a mallet; Nicholas Brien is affable but disconerted and Reville Smith enters the stage each time with a bang. Each actor brings unique elements to their characters and this distinction is aided by clever costume design by Gowri Paary.

Director Dione Joseph showed great talent in the staging of this play, particularly inspired was the decision to have violinist/composer Christine Munro onstage to accompany the action. The music is integrated with great precision and the live-ness it added gave a great vitality to the show. The work is also precisely choreographed to the space and the physicality that defines Joseph’s work is apparent and on display to great effect. There is a resulting dangerous energy to the entire play.

One-act plays need to strike an interesting balance of content, narrative and length. At just over one hour perhaps King of Bangor could have been fleshed out a little longer with the addition of a narrative for the character of Stephen King himself. As well as the interaction with his work there might have been the potential for King to move through his manic nightmare as it is we are left with him as stuck and powerless as he started. Perhaps this is the intention though – to make the point that during King’s drug and drinking days there was no escape and no movement forward. Structured as is, it certainly achieves that.

Although marketed to horror fans this play does have broader appeal. It is insightful, surprisingly funny at points and delightfully inter-textual. It is not a comfortable place to be sitting as Stephen King at his typewriter, but it sure is an absolute pleasure to sit in the audience and watch as both the play and his sanity unfold.

King of Bangor has a three week season at Bella Union. Get onto it and go and see it!