reprint from, 2/17/2002 (updated 3/19/2022)

Mary Devlin Grumpuss Video Review

TRAVIS EDWARD PIKE'S GRUMPUSS 1997 Premiere Performance [DVD]
I remember a rainy evening a long time ago, when I was watching Sir Kenneth Clarkes TV documentary series Civilisation for the first time. It was about the fourth or fifth episode, Im not sure which one, but in this one, Sir Kenneth was in Rome, waxing eloquent about an opera which had been produced by the famous architect and sculptor, Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). I was particularly impressed when Sir Kenneth quoted a contemporary of Bernini, who stated that the sculptor gave a public opera wherein he painted the scenes, cut the statues, invented the machines, composed the music, wrote the comedy, and built the theatre.

Well, I have a suspicion that the patience of musician/author/playwright/filmmaker Travis Edward Pike would give out if he were expected to build the theatre, but he might just represent a modern Hollywoodish version of Giovanni Bernini. Pike wrote the poem on which the play is based, crafted the rest of the play around it, composed the music, played the lead role, and also produced and directed the entire performance. And the results are delightful.
1999 Chicago Film Festival INTERCOM silver plaque award (special achievement--writing)
Pike, an American of Celtic ancestry, is hailed in some circles as an Archdruid. Hes a bit more modest about it himself, maintaining that he is merely a bard (the first degree of Druidic initiation). However, he doesnt waste his time mourning the passing of the ancient, elitist bardic schools. Instead, he has embraced the motion picture industry, considering it to be the ultimate medium through which to convey the timeless myths, legends, and poetic traditions of his ancestors. His most recent success is Grumpuss.

Though Grumpuss features the talents of other performers, it is mainly a one-man show starring Travis Pike himself. He plays a bard, rousted by the Queen of the Sidhe and her child minions, and forced to recite a gripping epic poem (With rhymes! None of that blank verse!), or else be executed. From then on, the show belongs to Pike.

Most modern audiences are composed of those who are becoming more and more accustomed to the Star Wars-type epic, with gorgeous stars playing the leads, crashing music and mind-blowing special effects. Thus they might at first think of a one-man stage show centered mainly around the performance of an epic narrative rhyme as something interesting, but not worth their time. Yet Pike not only pulls it off, but by the time he gets into the second verse of the poem, the audience is rapt. The poem is ingeniously crafted, and, very much in the tradition of the medieval epic poets who composed such masterpieces as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is timeless. It is also full of action, suspense, and memorable characters. Just think: This was how our ancestors were entertained, in the days before TV, concert halls, or even the earliest theatres.

Who needs special effects? Pike plays the role of the Grumpuss, a big pussycat who has an erroneous reputation as an evil monster. He also plays the knight, the dwarf, and other such characters with all the skill of an Olivier. He not only recites the poem, but acts out the roles, miming swordfights and dramatic escapes so cleverly we tend to forget this is only one man. Believe me, this is more than worth the 90 minutes or so that you might spend watching it.

There are other performers worth watching as well. Anna Scott is deliciously bitchy as the Queen of the Sidhe. Aimee Johnson, Yvonne Hill, and Rose Meredith, who play the Queens minions, are gifted young gymnasts who entertain the audience at the beginning of the play and right after the intermission, giving Pike a chance to catch his breath. Pikes music, Shaun Moores set design, and Alitia Sands choreography add just the right touch to make for a delightful evening.

Reviewers, even if they absolutely love what theyre reviewing, are generally expected to give at least a little criticism, but I honestly cant think of anything to say in that light. As a vocalist, I would have loved to have heard some singing, but I cant recall any point in the play where it would have been appropriate, except perhaps at the very beginning  and anything stronger than Enya-esque ooos and ahhhs would have been too distracting. Its darn near perfect as it is.

Rating:                                                                    Mary Devlin