Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright David Seidler, who won an Oscar for the screenplay, takes audiences back to the 1930s, when the British royal family was facing both internal and external challenges. King George V (John Judd) worries because his heir David (Jeff Parker) is in love with, and wishes to marry, a twice-divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson (Tiffany Scott)not appropriate behavior for the man who would lead the Church of England. It's giving nothing away to say that David assumed the throne as Edward VIII upon his father's death, then abdicated rather than give up the woman he loved.
At the same time, the United Kingdom is watching Adolf Hitler's domination of Germany and likely future threat to England. (Dialogue makes clear that Edward and Wallis have no problem with the Nazis.) The concern is whether the next in successionDavid's brother Albert, or Bertie (Nick Westrate)would be up to the stresses of reigning. He's resolute enough and understands the issues, but since childhood he has had a debilitating stutter. Since radio has made it possible for a monarch to address his people directly, can Bertie, literally, have a voice in the international conversation?
Elizabeth (Maggie Lacey), Bertie's devoted wife, finds Lionel Logue (Michael Bakkensen), a speech therapist who works to ease Bertie's unease, and the play follows the growing bond between the flamboyant Logue and the painfully reserved prince, and its larger implications.
Westrate is charming and heroic, well matched with Lacey. Bakkensen gets to show off more: Logue is a frustrated Shakespearean actor, and his interplay with his wife (Elizabeth Ledo) is a highlight. Parker ably shows both David's abundant charm and his sense of entitlement.
Director Michael Wilson skillfully plays up the various conflicts: among George V, who understands that the royal family is a corporation with specific responsibilities to the people it serves, and his sons, one selfish ("What's the point of being king if you can't have your own way?" David asks) and one painfully shy; between the two brothers; between Bertie and Logue, whose unorthodox speech exercises add to the prince's discomfort; and among the politicians, archbishops, and other leaders with their own opinions.
The drama takes place on Kevin Depinet's simple but eye-catching set: a foreshortened room with large doors on each side, a gallery of royal portraits. Howell Binkley's lighting design occasionally turns expressionistic, using deep colors to echo Bertie's moods, while David C. Woolard has created appropriately sumptuous costumes.
The King's Speech runs through February 16, 2020, at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 1-800-447-7400 or visit www.thenationaldc.com or www.telecharge.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.thekingsspeechtour.com/.
By David Seidler
Bertie: Nick Westrate