THE KING, City Lit Theater Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. This playful, intelligent adaptation of Donald Barthelme’s novel The King takes a refreshing, irreverent romp through legend. Adapted by Mark Richard and directed by Steve Scott, the play tells the story of King Arthur and his court–if they’d achieved a somehow burdensome immortality and were facing World War II.

Barthelme skillfully combines literary, theatrical, technical, historical, and pop cultural allusions to cover the three centuries of Arthur’s improbable reign. With a deft combination of comedy and drama Guinevere, Arthur, and Launcelot–as well as a crew of paramours, soldiers, and wayward queens–negotiate the changing morality of the monarchy, marriage, and the nuclear age.

Swift character changes and solid performances by a flexible, verbally adept cast complement Frank Nall’s subtle portrayal of Arthur, Kevin Theis as a staunchly comic Launcelot, and Peggy Dunne’s goofy, languid Guinevere. Barthelme’s erudite references will be lost on all but the most New Yorker-ish audience, but there’s enough broad comedy and clever characterization to satisfy audiences who like their mythology with a good dose of modern cynicism.

–Carol Burbank