cover image The Beheading Game

The Beheading Game

Brenda Webster, . . Wings, $22.95 (247pp) ISBN 978-0-916727-24-6

Ren is a New York off-off-off-Broadway director putting on a play derived from a medieval legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the legend, the knight breaks into King Arthur's court and makes an absurd challenge: the knight will cut off Gawain's head—but Gawain can return the blow in a year and a day; Gawain takes the dare. Ren, in his production, adds various contemporary touches, including a radical shift in ending. Meanwhile, Ren sometimes fantasizes that his lover Jack's father, boorish Malcolm Firste, is the green skinned monster-knight (they're not out to him). The tension turns critical when Jack undergoes radical stem-cell replacement for cancer at the moment when Ren's play turns into a hit: Ren is invited to Italy and wants to take Jack with him to convalesce, but Malcolm won't hear of it. Ren, however, discovers things about Malcolm's own love life that offer possibility of blackmail. What would be the knightly thing to do? It's a rather odd question, and readers, unfortunately, aren't given much reason to care; the closet thing just doesn't work. And while Ren's stagecraft and Jack's treatment are nicely described, Webster never gets the legend, the production and Ren and Jack's relationship compellingly aligned. (Feb.)