Hard to believe, but 'The Princess Bride' film turns 25 this year, and a troupe at the Dark Room are performing a live version of the cult film, starting Aug. 2.
“The Princess Bride” is 25 years old?
“Inconceivable!” Wallace Shawn, as Sicilian wit battler Vizzini, might say.
Yes, the time-honored movie was released in 1987, and has attained cult classic status over the last quarter-century—becoming a quotable cornucopia for film fans.
“As you wish.” “Anybody want a peanut?” “Have fun storming the castle!” “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Everybody has a favorite.
How about that eclectic cast? Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Andre the Giant, Peter Falk, Peter Cook, Billy Crystal and Carol Cane—and those are just the supporting players!
Foul Play Productions’ “Princess Bride Live” takes its cues from the book, which was released in 1973, as a “just the good parts” adaptation by William Goldman of a longer book by S. Morgenstern (which doesn’t really exist).
The fractured fairytale is narrated by a gruff grandfather trying to appease his sick grandson. The tome Grandpa reads has a farm boy named Wesley and Buttercup, the most beautiful girl in the world, chase “true wuv,” despite obstacles such as kidnappings, pirates, R.O.U.Ses (Rodents Of Unusual Size), a six-fingered duke and becoming almost dead.
Foul Play’s Cameron Eng plays vengeance-seeking swordsman Inigo Montoya while Jim Fourniadis portrays Fezzik the giant. The buddies are co-directing the production which debuts at the Dark Room Theater on Aug. 2.
Corey Andrew: I assume you are fans of the film and the book?
Jim Fourniadis and Cameron Eng: Yes! Of course!
Corey: When you decided to do this show, what were the goals?
Jim: Just have fun with it. As with all of our productions, it’s less about going crazy, trying to hit every detail and more about having fun doing it.
Cameron: I fell in love with the book at a young age and felt it was such an incredible piece. You get different things from it depending how you read it. You can have it read to you, and it’s a magical story. Or you can read it to someone, and there’s stuff in the book included specifically for reading it to someone else. We really wanted to capture the fairytale magic of it.
Corey: It’s the 25h anniversary of the film. There seems like a resurgence of it lately. They did a star-studded live read of it in L.A., and Entertainment Weekly did a photo shoot reuniting the cast. There’s certainly a lot of love for the story. Why do you think it retains its popularity?
Cameron: I know this sounds cheesy—and it’s something I told the cast, too—it’s a love story but not just the true love between Buttercup and Wesley, but a love of all different kinds. It’s the friendship love between Inigo and Fezzik. It’s Duke Rugen’s love of pain, the care he takes to build the machine. It’s Prince Humperdinck’s love of hunting. I really think the notes in each of the characters really resonate with people all along. They want to fall in true love. They want to have something they chase so intently it drives all other things out of their mind. That’s something I wanted to capture.
Corey: Absolutely. There are satirical elements played up with the swashbuckling epic and romantic fairytale epic. How are you tackling the satire in this production?
Jim: Very satirically. (All laugh.)
Jim: A fanciful tale like this, as you get older, it’s very easy to get jaded by something like it. I think Goldman and (film director) Rob Reiner knew the best way to handle that is to wink and nod at the audience. Yes, it’s a fairy tale and silly.
Corey: Doing a show at the Dark Room has its own challenges for a large story like this.
Jim: That would be our stage, which we lovingly call ‘the parking space.’
Corey: How large is your cast?
Cameron: Our cast is 10 people. We have five principals, and the rest are ensemble.
Corey: There are a lot of roles.
Cameron: So, one person is playing One of the Most Beautiful Women in the World and a Farm Boy and Miracle Max and a priest and so on.
Jim: One minute someone could be a tree, the next minute a Rodent Of Unusual Size. I know, that’s a spoiler.
Cameron: The tree was my breakout role in third grade, so I want to give everyone that opportunity.
Corey: Of course. How are you handling the sets?
Cameron: It is a black box theater, so the language and the actors’ reactions really support all that. The grandfather is telling the story in the kid’s bedroom, and as he does, the fairy tale unfolds behind them.
The grandfather, as he navigates the audience through this world, he is taking bits and pieces from the mundane world into the fairy tale. For example, the rope to climb the Cliffs of Insanity is a twisted bed sheet. Jim: In every black box production, and particularly ‘Princess Bride’ where everything is so fanciful, the idea is that the audience is bringing something to it. You don’t want to overdo things.
Let this black stage disappear, and let the audience fill it in with their imagination. A black box theater to us is a little like a radio play. It engages the audience, and the focus is on the actors and their performance.
Corey: There are some props that are important to the story. Do you have some fun with that? There are swords at play.
Cameron: This may be a spoiler, but I’ll tell you about the swordplay. The stage is too small to have regular sword fights on it. What we’ve done is truncate the swords, and we’re tongue in cheek about it. When they draw these magnificent blades, they’re only eight inches long. We still manage to have an epic swashbuckling fight, but there’s a moment of acknowledgment from the actors and the audience that this is make believe and we’re all having fun and everyone is playing along.
Corey: Some satire on top of the satire. Certainly there are important costume pieces as well. Do you have someone on staff that can sew six-fingered gloves?
Cameron: We are very lucky to have an extremely talented lady who is running our tech, Rhiannon Charisse. She’s also our assistant director and our costumer. She’s an incredible talent.
Jim: She’s also a pilot and a philanthropist.
Cameron: She’s an amazing seamstress and loves creating effects with her costumes. Jim: And she mixes a great cosmopolitan.
Corey: The film is iconic, and there are moments that stand out to many people. Do you play tribute to particular elements?
Cameron: There’s always a nod to Wallace Shawn’s role and Billy Crystal’s role. We encourage the actors to come up with their own take on the characters, but there are iconic lines and moments they created that we’re trying to pay tribute to.
Jim: We’re not trying to pretend the movie doesn’t exist, but we’re also trying not to be Rich Little and do impersonations of people. Part of having fun with it is invoking certain things from the movie. Peel off the best things we can from that vision and the book.
Corey: Do you have some favorite quotes?
Jim: I like the rhyming scene. ‘Anybody want a peanut?’
Cameron: Mine, of course, is Inigo’s line, but that’s because I’m portraying him onstage.
Jim: The last time we did this, every night he did his line, ‘My name is Inigo Montoya …,’ the audience started murmuring the line in unison with him. It was almost like a church service.
Corey: When was the last time you two were engaged in a battle of wits?
Jim: I think that was last rehearsal. The cast always wins in a battle of wits.
Corey: And if you had to take over for the Dread Pirate Roberts, what do you think your first act would be?
Jim: To liberate Greenland.
“The Princess Bride Live” will be presented Thursdays through Saturdays, Aug. 2-25, at the Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission St., San Francisco. Visit darkroomsf.com for more information.
Corey Andrew has been interviewing comedians and writing about comedy for the last decade and a half. In 2011, he published the book, “Laugh Lines: Conversations with Comedians.” Corey was a writer and performer with Midwest sketch troupe, The NonProphets, before moving to the Bay Area with his family a few years ago. If you have ideas for future columns about comedy, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at twitter.com/coreywrites.