By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
Political power and betrayal, the place of the monarchy (and women) in 21st-century Britain, and how political sausage gets made there are a few of the subjects under discussion in Mike Bartlett’s amusing “King Charles III,” currently enjoying its local premiere through April 22 at Coronado Playhouse.
Billed as a “future history play,” this five-time 2016 Tony nominee posits that Queen Elizabeth is dead, and the crown will go to Prince Charles.
But Charles (Richard Rivera) isn’t sure he wants the job. He’d rather read about kings than be one. The day-to-day work of being king isn’t his bag – and he really doesn’t want to face all those questions from the press! As he puts it, “I am better thoughtful prince than king.”
He’s especially nonplussed when his first visitor, Prime Minister Evans (Christopher Pittman), brings a bill Parliament passed that needs Charles’ pro-forma signature. The bill limits freedom of the press, and though reporters have proven to be no great friend to him, the notion of legislating against the press’ ability to do its job rankles. Talking to Mrs. Stevens (Liza Wismer), the wily leader of the opposition, does not help. What to do?
When Parliament refuses to reconsider the bill, the king exercises the only power he has. He dissolves Parliament, touching off demonstrations that come close to civil war.
The next question is whether or not Charles will abdicate. Though he has admitted the job is not a good fit for him, he suddenly seems unwilling to simply let go.
Ready to step in is Prince William (Andrew Walters). Especially primed is his wife Kate (Julia Giolzetti), who has her own power agenda.
Prince Harry (Travis Rynders), doesn’t care who takes the throne as long as he’s not involved in any way. In fact, after a fling with commoner Jess (Alyssa Salter), he says he’d rather abdicate his standing as a royal.
Bartlett tips his hat to the Bard in many ways. Most obvious are the use of blank verse and iambic pentameter, but the influence Will’s history plays is evident, too. And the use of the ghost of Diana (Sara Jane Nash) is sheer brilliance.
Rivera, with an uncanny facial resemblance to Charles, communicates both the dogged dedication to the job at hand and the tragedy of the man appointed by happenstance.
Sandy Hotchkiss’ Camilla seems just a helpmeet in the background until William steps up to support the abdication drive. Her best line is the sniffy description of William and Kate as “the king and queen of column inches.”
Rynders is charming as Prince Harry, the affable rebel who both disdains the obligations of royalty and resents his second-string status on the team. He also tells Jess he wants more “TV, Doritos and curry.”
Jess is the sort of earthy, up-front type who horrifies snooty royals, and Salter plays her to the hilt.
Giolzetti is totally convincing as Kate, a lovely schemer who knows what she wants. She lists Iago among her Shakespeare credits. I would love to have seen that.
Walters’ Prince William, unlike Harry, is solid and dedicated to the job he was born to, even if it means his father must abdicate.
Wismer is excellent as Mrs. Stevens, the crafty leader of the opposition. She also surmounts the theater’s difficult acoustic problems best, to deliver her lines with clarity throughout.
Pittman’s Evans is just what you’d expect of a politician. That’s not much of a personal recommendation, but Pittman is just right as the intractable prime minister.
Mike Martin is terrific as James Reiss, Charles’ press secretary who tries in vain to control the situation.
Jacob Sampson’s set is simple and malleable enough to be easily changed by cast members. Kudos also to Chad Oakley for his fine lighting design. Lisa Burgess’ costumes are not up to her usual standard.
A very special shout-out goes to sound designer Steve Murdock, whose choice of music (including lots of Handel and Bach) actually adds to the theatrical experience.
I don’t know what the current royals thought of this show when it opened in London in 2014, but it’s cracking good political theater. Congratulations to the Playhouse on scoring the local premiere of this absorbing play.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.