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Written by Truly Malin on 17 Jun, 2006
I’d seen them before: looming concrete castles topped with colorful flags fluttering in the tropical breezes of vacation destinations like Orlando, Florida. I’d seen their 10% off coupons in many a hotel lobby, and had heard rumors of eating with one’s hands and calling other…Read More
I’d seen them before: looming concrete castles topped with colorful flags fluttering in the tropical breezes of vacation destinations like Orlando, Florida. I’d seen their 10% off coupons in many a hotel lobby, and had heard rumors of eating with one’s hands and calling other people Milord and Milady. "Camelot in a Can", I thought disparagingly. "The Middle Ages for Dummies". Yes, I admit it, I didn’t think much of Medieval Times and its mass-produced, Disneyfied brand of historiana. New Yorkers are expected to watch Shakespeare in the Park, not Jousting in the Boroughs. It’s just not done.But then my husband (who despite being born and bred in Manhattan, apologetically thinks it sounds fun to wear a paper crown and eat mutton with his fingers) asked for tickets to Medieval Times for his birthday... … and next thing I know, here we are at the doors of the Lyndhurst castle, where two costumed Knights stand guard, along with a teenager in a polo shirt and jeans who greets us with an anemic "Welcome to Medieval Times, Milord". Historical accuracy has just gone out the window and we aren’t even inside yet. We venture inside and are processed by a succession of acne-encrusted teenagers who seem intent on collecting tickets and stamping things, and clearly can not be bothered to "role play" anything whatsoever. We are assigned to the green section of the banquet hall. Green paper crowns are popped onto our heads, and we are delighted beyond belief to find that the knight we are supposed to cheer for is--and this is his full name--"The Green Knight of Leon–Arrogant and Vile!" Things are looking up.We are ushered into the main hall, where a few other guests in paper crowns are milling about, clutching beers in non-authentic plastic steins and looking around morosely. We realize that the strict instructions to arrive at 6pm were a ploy to get us there an hour early for the express purpose of trapping us in the Royal Shopping Mall. Forsooth, we have an entire hour to wander the hall drinking expensive Medieval beer and browsing the racks of overpriced Medieval souvenirs that seem increasingly enticing the more beer we drink. "Make way! Make way for the King!" Finally, something to do. We make way for the king and his entourage, who are proceeding at a regal pace toward a pair of thrones near the back of the hall.The King (just "King," no last name) and his daughter The Princess Esmeralda, proceed to knight a few very small children who are celebrating their birthdays. The crowd is instructed to shout "hip hip hooray" as each new knight takes his or her place in the pantheon of Lyndhurst royalty. After the sixth knighting, we can’t take it any more and go back to shopping.Three pints of beer later, we have acquired one large green banner for Milord, one silk-wrapped headband adorned with silk flowers and floaty bits of gauzy fabric for Milady, and three souvenir pens. The staff, incidentally, are not making the slightest effort to seem Medieval except for occasionally ending a sentence with ‘Milord’ or ‘Milady,’ delivered in a sly deadpan. Some of them haven’t even bothered to put their costumes on. A notable exception is the Master of Ceremonies, who introduces himself as Lord Martin of Monroe (I’m thinking Monroe, NJ). He appears with much fanfare (thanks to two guys who are sounding the heck out of their horns), climbs up a flight of steps and welcomes us most regally. Lord Martin is actually good enough at sounding like he’s not from Jersey that I think he might actually have been to England. He reads us the rules and ... oh happy day! ... sends us to our seats in orderly color-coded groups.Despite what I had heard about the waitstaff at Medieval Times, our waiter is not a wench. His name is Mario and he looks to be about 12 years old. This, at least, is historically accurate. Throughout the event, "wenches" and "serfs" walk the stands selling tchotckes--much like a baseball game. This is a welcome distraction from the food, which is unremarkable (and I am being kind). The best part is eating with your hands. Fortunately Mario supplements His Majesty’s Antiseptic Moist Towelettes with warm washcloths. The plates and bowls are pewter as advertised, but Ye Olde Pepsi Stein is plastic. Milord Malin has half a roast chicken and a side of BBQ ribs while Milady gets a special vegetarian plate: Vegetable Lasagna with a side of boiled vegetables served with dip. Try eating THAT with your hands! Our neighbors to the left offer us some of their assortment of plastic knives and forks. Spoilsports! We report them to Mario.The plot of Medieval Times, which unfolds nightly nation-wide, begins with the news that the King’s brother has been killed in battle. The King decides to choose a new Protector of the Realm by pitting his best knights against each other in a tournament where they will fight to the death. As far as I can tell, this will leave him with one really good Protector and a bunch of dead guys who could have helped protect the fair city of Lyndhurst, NJ. But he’s the King and I’m not going to argue with him. During this tournament, the Princess Esmeralda is biting her nails, hoping that her true love, The Yellow Knight, will win.In a plot development worthy of (or borrowed from) Hamlet, the King’s trusty wizard Cedric speaks with the brother’s spirit and learns that he has been murdered. Everyone suspects the Green Knight (cuz he’s arrogant and vile) but no one suspects the King’s deputy, whose job is to train all the other knights, and therefore was not allowed to compete in the tournament. You can guess where that’s going.I mentioned before that we have been asked to cheer for the bad guy: The Green Knight, Vile and Arrogant (TGK for short). We’ve already made up our minds that he is innocent, and decide to support him with gusto. Having now had several pints of Castle Lyndhurst’s finest grog, we happily bellow "Greeeen Kniiiiiiight!" at the top of our lungs every time he appears. Inspired perhaps by our enthusiastic support of TGK, the fine lords and ladies of our section start joining us in giving a TGK a standing ovation each time he rides into the ring. Encouraged, we supplement our main war cry with occasional cries of "Vile and Obnoxious!", "Green Knight is a stud!", "Misundastood!" and other heart-felt cheers, until finally the actor playing TGK breaks character and has to stifle a laugh. Medieval Times isn’t just about jousting and lances. It’s also about Medieval Stupid Pet Tricks. These include a falconry display and a series of precision "dressage" drills performed on horseback by members of the ensemble, cleverly disguised with different costumes. I suspect the actor who played The Green Knight was a bit taken aback when in the middle of the dressage display, cries of "Greeeen Kniiiiiiight!" erupted from the stands somewhere very close to where Lord Malin was sitting. The costumes and plot may be a bit hokey, but the tournament itself is well worth watching. The actors spend over 350 hours learning how to do things like spear a three-inch-diameter ring with the tip of a lance while careening forward at speeds up to 35mph on a horse. Impressive? Aye, verily! Even the horses require three years of training before they are ready to perform. And the plot does have a few twists to it, as does the stale pastry that Mario brings us for dessert. We are sorely disappointed when The Green Knight, after a gripping sword fight with "The Red And Black Knight", is stabbed through the heart and dies. So we redouble our efforts by cheering for TGK’s buddy "Blue Kniiiiiiiight!" Our section is now so rowdy that The Blue Knight starts hanging out in our corner of the stadium when he isn’t busy jousting. The Metropolitan Opera may be the pinnacle of Manhattan’s cultural offerings, but I’ve never been thrown a carnation by a guy on horseback there, and The Met never needs to hang a giant net between the stage and the audience there to protect us from flying debris and broken sword tips.As the tournament draws to a close, you will not be at all surprised to hear that good triumphs over evil, the hero gets the girl, and all the dead knights get to come back out for a round of applause. I understand that there is a sort of open house ("open castle"?) at the end where you can chat with the actors and ask questions, but instead I recommend sneaking out early to avoid one last medieval torture: getting out of the parking lot. Huzzah! Close