Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, heir apparent to the British throne, has often been a subject of ridicule. Married to the glamorous fairy-tale Princess Diana, he found himself overshadowed by her, and, apparently none too happy about it, he frequently appeared sour and surly. A devoted environmentalist, he nevertheless provoked derision when he confessed he talked to plants. On the TV puppet show Spitting Image, he was all huge nose and jug ears, preferring to commune with a bush rather than other humans. And when, after his split with Diana and her subsequent death, he married his first love, the overly toothy and harpy-like Camilla, the jeering reached a crescendo.
But more than anything, the facts that Charles is the oldest and longest-serving heir apparent in British history, and, if he were to become king, would become the oldest person ever to ascend the throne, make him ripe for mockery: will Mummy ever die? Will this longest-lived lord-in-waiting ever get to be king? And if he does, will he be so old he won’t be able to remember what to do?
Given all this, a play titled King Charles III – a fantasy about what happens when Mummy finally does ascend to a heavenly throne and Charles claims his birthright – might conceivably have been written as a farce. But playwright Mike Bartlett chose instead to craft a serious meditation on principles, and how much one might choose to sacrifice to preserve them. In an intelligent, handsome production at the Pasadena Playhouse, director Michael Michetti and a large and splendid cast and crew provide the sort of sumptuous entertainment we see too little of in today’s theatre. Hip Hip Hurrah!
And so begins a dance, the steps of which most of the characters find difficult to master – or even figure out.
The Opposition leader Stevens (Carie Kawa), whom Charles, in a break with tradition, chooses to meet regularly, privately encourages the new ruler’s rebellious streak: her party disapproves of the bill at hand, so anything which will upset the apple cart is fine. However, she’s also a politician, so in public – and with her opposite number the Prime Minister – she says no such thing. Charles doesn’t understand politics, or the compromises politicians make, so he’s flummoxed, and becomes increasingly stubborn about insisting on what he sees as his royal prerogatives. A constitutional crisis looms.
Mr. Abele makes a splendid Charles; indeed, one almost wishes he were indeed the heir to the British throne, as he would be able to play the part quite well. Mr. Boehmer’s Evans is a worthy adversary, respectful to a point, but eventually seething in frustration and resentment.
The rest of the cast is, by and large, quite wonderful. My one cavil is that several of the actors occasionally suffer defeat at the hands of blank verse and British accent and become unintelligible; fortunately, it doesn’t happen often.
The set by David Meyer, costumes by Alex Jaeger, lighting by Elizabeth Harper, and original music and sound by Peter Bayne, are all opulent, in the best sense of the word. And director Michael Michetti has brought all the elements together expertly.
King Charles III is surprising in concept, but, thankfully, traditional in its storytelling and entertainment value. Well done all around, chaps.
King Charles III
Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Michael Michetti
Through December 3
39 South El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101