Regional Reviews: St. Louis
King Charles III
But that's not to suggest that there's any political "blue wave" coming to the rescue in this perfectly mounted, poised yet funny yet tragic political drama at the Ivory Theatre, directed by St. Louis Shakespeare Company founder Donna Northcott. Queen Elizabeth II has finally expired, before this two-and-a-half hour show begins, leaving Charles as king. But that's only if he can survive the turbulent three months until his formal coronation.
Colin Nichols is outstanding as Charles, formerly prince of Wales. Think of a dour, pensive, and very slender Jim Broadbent, and you'll begin to get the picture of actor-as-prince, a Charles who's spent too many decades pondering what kind of king he'd be, rather than what kind of world he might create. Donna Postel is excellent alongside as a very able and advising Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Everyone else on stage is gently importuning of the new king, in an elegant kind of modern verse that only rarely sweeps into obvious view in the dialog. He's picked a battle right away, refusing to sign a bill from Parliament that would restrict press freedoms. And things spin wildly out of control after that, as he refuses to go-along/get-along. Andra Harkins is perfectly sensible as the tut-tutting prime minister, who lays out a case in favor of press limits, with all the incipient autocracy that implies. And Michael Bouchard and Lexie Baker are very good as Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (the young beauty previously known as Kate Middleton).
But it's Dustin Allison, as Charles' press secretary, who provides reliable comic relief, drily dismissive of every family crisis along the way. Prince Harry is played by the earnest Jeremy Goldmeier, and Britteny Henry is the stridently anti-royalist girlfriend he picks up along the way, or the girl who picks him upI'm not sure which, and neither is press secretary James. The romantic young couple keeps us grounded in everyday realities, popping in at Burger Kings in the middle of the night.
William Pendergast becomes a fine Shakespearean type as Harry's kabob vendor in the pre-dawn hours somewhere in London. But he might just as well be the night watchman in Macbeth or the gravedigger in Hamlet, for the truth-telling he supplies at a crucial moment. Charles has made things worse, and then much worse, in the course of act one. But that kabob vendor helps keep things in perspective. By act two, the sound of civil unrest outside the castle grows till it drowns out some of the dialog on stage. But Harry, the most superficial of all these superficial royals, escapes to a more poetic end, thanks to Mr. Pendergast's random Everyman.
There are plenty of references to the fragility of the men who would be king: early on, during his first night out in the play, Prince Harry's given a drink at a dance club that "will take your head off," while Charles' own conversation and monologs rarely veer off-course from his own path of doom. In King Charles III, a life spent in his mother's shadow has given this late-blooming ruler a bad case of political rickets, and the manner of his downfall seems all too easy. Still, it's quite Shakespearean, in a fresh, smart, almost miniaturist style.
It's also beautifully staged. I recently complained about simplistic lighting at St. Louis Shakespeare, but apparently I was wrong, because here the lighting is imaginatively articulate and even beautifully dramatic, thanks to Jaime Zayas and Kevin Doerr. The exceptionally fine costumes are once again supplied by Michelle Friedman Siler. And the palatial Ivory Theatre is a perfect venue, with its tall slender pillars and elegant arched ceiling. Not content to simply "put on a show" year after year, founder/director Northcott has revived her own empire, and surrounded herself with a fresh crop of exciting new people, all firmly committed to the business of creating art.
King Charles III, through August 26, 2018, at St. Louis Shakespeare's Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave, St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.stlshakespeare.org