Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

King Charles III
American Conservatory Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of What They Said About Love, Chess, Dear Master, and Little Shop of Horrors

Robert Joy and Jeanne Paulsen
Photo by Kevin Berne
American Conservatory Theatre opens their 50th season with Mike Barlett's King Charles III in a co-production with the Seattle Repertory Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company. Having been described as a "future history play," the drama won the Olivier Award for Best New Play last year. The two hour and forty minute drama is laboriously and often entertainingly in debt to Shakespeare's history plays and is mostly written in blank verse.

Bartlett imagines what might happen when Queen Elizabeth dies and the Prince of Wales becomes king. The plot centers around Charles, who is yet to be crowned king when we first meet him. We also meet his wife Camilla and Prince William, Princess Kate, and Prince Harry. All will be involved in this tense drama. The first order of business for Charles is to give the royal assent to a bill protecting privacy and imposing restrictions on the press. Charles is very unhappy with the bill. Prime Minister Tristram Evans urges Charles to sign the bill. The leader of the opposition suggests he might refuse to give his assent. Charles does not sign and political bedlam and public disturbance arise.

King Charles III contains a subplot in which Prince Harry becomes tired of his royal lifestyle and goes out among the common folk, quickly falling in love with a socialist art student named Jess. He is sort of like Prince Hal in the Henry IV plays. Prince William and his resolute wife Kate continue their royal life since the throne will ultimately be theirs.

David Muse has assembled a superb cast of New York, Seattle, and local actors to present this magnificent drama. New York and film actor Robert Joy brilliantly captures the awkwardness of Charles and he is superb in his continuous impression of a man not sure of himself and ill at ease with others. Jeanne Paulsen intelligently plays Camilla as a strong woman who continually urges the Charles not to sign.

Christopher McLinden and Harry Smith give outstanding performances as Princes William and Harry. McLinden plays Prince William with facetiousness and reticent charm, while Smith delivers a mirthful, poignant, and amiable Prince Harry. Kate is played by Allison Jean White who gives a perceptive performance. I kept thinking she is really playing the role as Lady Macbeth.

Dan Hiatt as James Reiss, press secretary to the King, and Ian Merrill Peakes as Prime Minister Evans give perfect performances. Rafael Jordan, Jefferson Farber, Michael Beck, Bradford Farwell, Warren David Keith, Chiara Motley, Patrick Russell and Lauren Spencer all give strong performances in their receptive roles.

Daniel Ostling's set is a superlative ancient-looking cathedral set with three large king statues at the top of the set. Costumes are awesome by Jennifer Moeller, especially at the end of the coronation scene. Lighting by Lau-Chi Chu is spectacular and adds greatly to the drama. David Muse directs the magnificent production with blistering humor.

This is a fiendishly clever production with outstanding acting. I was spellbound by the acting, the set, and all of the production values and I was not bored for one minute.

King Charles III runs through October 9th, 2016, at A.C.T. Geary Theatre, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets 415-749-2229 or on line at Coming up next Tom Stoppard The Hard Problem opening on October 19 and running through November 13th.

Privacy Policy