Regional Reviews: Phoenix
I believe the less you know about the plot going in the better, as there are twists and turns that might lessen your enjoyment of how well-crafted the play is if you know them ahead of time. While the majority of characters are the beloved Royal family, Bartlett doesn't paint the Royals in the exact same shade most of us are familiar with seeing. Thus, Charles isn't exactly as conservative as we might believe and Kate Middleton is portrayed as a somewhat calculating observer who learns how to make the most out of a tight situation.
Set in the period immediately after Queen Elizabeth's death but before Prince Charles' confirmation, Bartlett has written his play in the style of a Shakespeare history play. The plot depicts how a confrontation between Charles and the Prime Minister over limiting the freedom of the press sets in motion a series of events that pit father against son, brother against brother, conservative verses liberal, and the monarchy against Parliament.
While Bartlett's style of prose evokes Shakespeare in both the use of blank verse, references to some of his most famous plays, elements (such as ghosts), and familiar Shakespearean archetypes, it is incredibly accessible and easy to understand. It is also exceptionally entertaining and intriguing.
ATC's excellent cast is led by Peter Van Norden as Charles. Bartlett has written Charles on the level of some of Shakespeare's greatest leads and Van Norden is sensational in showing the multi-faceted and thoughtful nature of this well-known and incredibly proud man who acts with his conscious. As his two sons William and Harry, Adam Haas Hunter and Dylan Saunders, respectively, deliver well-shaded portrayals that present these conflicted princes, who couldn't be more different from each other, in line with the well documented men most of us have seen grow from boys to adulthood. All three actors achieve memorable and thought provoking performances.
The three actresses portraying the women in the lives of these three men are equally good. Kate Maher Hyland does well in presenting Kate Middleton as both the charming, beloved and outgoing woman we have all seen on TV as well as the newest member of the Royals who learns how to serve as a cunning mediator in order to acutely position herself for success. Jeanne Syquia is vibrant and full of life as Jess, a fictional commoner whom Harry meets and falls head over heels for. Syquia and Saunders form a passionate, realistic couple. We see how Jess changes Harry, and it is believable due to Syquia and Saunders' wonderful performances. As Charles' wife Camilla, Cathy Dresbach is energetic and fiery, yet also full of warmth and charm. Solid work is done by Corey Walter Johnson and Gregory North as the Prime Minister and the opposing party head, respectively, and Harold Dixon as James, Charles' assistant and and faithful servant.
With an unrushed pace that allows us to be drawn into the play and a cast who deliver clear and concise portrayals, Matt August's direction is exceptional. Creative elements are rich and vibrant with G. W. Mercier's modern yet regal set design, Kish Finnegan's beautiful costumes, and Paul Miller's energetic lighting all achieving stellar results.
Mike Bartlett's King Charles III is a poetic and provoking drama that poses the question of what the role of the monarchy should be in modern politics. ATC's production has a gifted cast and skilled direction with a performance from Peter Van Norden as Charles that is superb. It is a play and a production that will linger in your mind for a long time.
King Charles III at Arizona Theatre Company runs through October 23rd, 2016, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling (602) 2566995.
Director: Matt August
*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.