By O’Hara Shipe
How does a 29-year-old kid from Pennsylvania become the longest running “Sir Robin” in the Broadway production of Monty Python’s Spamalot? According to actor Kassidy Devlin, it requires a forbidden VHS tape and an unexpected back-alley meeting.
“I first found Monty Python when I was about 10—we had a local video rental store back when those still existed, and a friend of mine told me that his dad said ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ was one of the best movies of all time,” recalls Devlin. “Of course, we had to see it, so we went to go rent it and the video store clerk told us we were too young to rent a PG movie. But then he sort of whispered, ‘meet me out back.’”
What could easily have been the setting for every parent’s worst nightmare, ended up being a life-changing moment for the two friends.
“When he finally came around to the back, he slipped us the VHS tape and basically said, ‘I’m not supposed to give this to you, but everybody needs to see this movie!’ We were basically super fans from there on out,” laughs Devlin who admits dropping his first paycheck on a copy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ box set.
Devlin’s love of the physical, borderline offensive comedic style of Python led him to study at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Comedy where actors are encouraged to “revel in ferocious play.”
“Dell’Arte is a physical based training program with different core areas of study like clown, melodrama, mask performance, tragedy and a whole bunch of other highly stylized forms of theater. In doing that, you sort of think of your body as an instrument to convey emotion. When it comes to performing Monty Python, you have to be able to find ways to adapt to their sense of humor because its not just Mel Brooks and it’s not just slapstick—it’s this very special English hybrid,” says Devlin, who was first cast as Sir Robin in 2011 and remained with the production until the show’s last tour over five years ago.
Although he’s recited the same punchlines and performed the same gags hundreds of times, Devlin is still amazed by the depth of Python’s comedic genius.
“Adam Grabau, who plays Sir Lancelot has basically broken down every scene into a mathematical equation,” explains with an audible pitch of excitement in his voice.
As Devlin explains it, the intensity of action in Python’s scenes exist on a very specific scale between one and ten. A character can never be semi-mad, they have to be completely outraged or the comedy of the interaction will be undercut. Similarly, the other characters in the scene must have a noticeably calm demeanor to balance the scales within the scene. You can think of it as an emotional teeter-totter where the characters are constantly passing emotions back and forth.
“It’s really brilliant the way [Grabau] has broken it down. He’s the longest running Sir Lancelot so he just knows this production so well—its almost like he knows the material subconsciously,” gushes Devlin.
Of course, playing the same role for over 600 hundred performances can take some unexpected tolls on the actors.
“Having done the same jokes over and over again, on and off for the last almost nine years has really trained me in a very specific style of comedy. I don’t know if Sir Robin and I were necessarily perfect for each other back in 2011, but I think we have come to grow and understand each other,” says Devlin.
For Devlin, part of understanding what makes Sir Robin ticks is also understanding the audience he is performing in front of. While many of Python’s jokes have remained timeless, there are elements of its comedic style that don’t necessarily mesh with a modern audience. Take for example Sir Robin’s 8-minute song “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway if You Don’t Have Any Jews”.
“I was a little nervous about coming back with it, just because the climate has changed. This is a testament to the Pythons. They’re such intelligent people. The song has such an inside sense of vocabulary in things that we reference, that audience members who are Jewish find it even funnier than all the (non-Jews) in the audience,” Devlin told The Gazette last month.
Despite its risqué humor, Devlin still believes that Spamalot has something for everyone.
“In many ways, the reason the show works so well is because although it’s absurdist, ridiculous, silly, scatological and offensive there’s still heart in the story.”
Monty Python’s Spamalot will take the Atwood Concert Hall stage May 7 – 12. Tickets start at $46.25 at AnchorageConcerts.org.