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“God Save The King” and congratulations on the 50th anniversary of our beloved AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATRE. The company has a number of activities and events planned for season 50 and the first was to open the West Coast Premiere of KING CHARLES III, fresh from New York. and now on stage at the Geary Theatre through Oct 9th. Writer Mike Bartlett’s cutting edge fight for the throne was a sharp hit in London and New York and nominated for five Tony awards and crowned the play of the year by "A" lister critics. An excellent mix of the current British Royal family headlines that is a mosh beautifully written mostly in Shakespearean iambic pentameter.

This is the best work that playwright Mike Bartlett has done, directed by David Muse who brings a majestic class to the Geary stage. In collaboration with the Seattle Repertory Theatre and the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Bartlett takes a look ahead confronting the difficult question of what will happen when the Queen dies. After such a long, historic reign how could it not change the would be King Charles III. The plot’s twists and turns are somewhat predictable but so very intriguing. Bartlett creates a humorous drama from a surprising constitutional crisis.

No sooner than Mother Queen had died, than Robert Joy as Charles is confronted with cunning dilemma: he is asked to give his consent to a new law that will safeguard privacy but will threaten freedom of the press and democracy itself. Bartlett has taken bits of what we know about Prince Charles’s temper, aloofness, and integrity while speculating what could happen. There are keen references to many of Shakespeare’s political works – including Richard II, Macbeth and King Lear. The play, using a style that combines a zeitgeist, throwing in that British droll, and infusing glimpses of a ghost of Diana that confronts both her husband and older son, Prince William, played convincingly well by Christopher McLinden.

Set Designer, Daniel Ostling, created a “Game of Thrones” Gothic castle setting that is one of the highlights of the show. Charles is blind to many of the daily tasks his staff would cover for him and his simple questions about the Buckingham Palace guards, he asks “I wondered if the soldiers’ guns carry ammunition”. Bartlett’s vision of Charles is floundering and awkward, Robert Joy is likable as the King mad and distant as he makes the King sound like a boy remembering his mum “Shall I be mother” he asks the Prime Minister Evans played by the dapper Ian Merrill Peakes. The famous Windsor Royals are all on hand besides Charles, and Camilla, Princes William, Harry, Duchess Kate, and their ghost mom hold court in this two and half hour palace scandal for power that include the royal wives quest for final power. Bartlett uses some “Hamlet” and other themes; this arch is interesting and authentic presenting some riveting bits of history to come.

Director Muse’s keen, elegant staging take us to Buckingham Palace with a Greek chorus of Windsor staff, then off to Bouji’s night-club and back to Westminster Abbey, with smart lighting cues by Lap Chi Chu, and tempo shifts of high tech music and Kubrick subtext designed by Mark Bennett. His booming classical and Hi Tech rave music scene transitions are another highlight of the slick look of this play. The company is excellent, and many play a number of roles including the brilliant Warren David Keith as Speaker of the House, Sir Gordon and others. There’s a perfect likeness from compelling Jeanne Paulsen as a funny, but feisty Camilla, and Christopher McLinden and Allison Jean White prove remarkably convincing as William and Kate. Joy is the new King, giving a terrific performance as Charles. He has the look and mannerisms and his timing with Paulsen is so very plausible that these same conversations are taking place at the Palace as we see this fictional story unfold.

Charles’ dead wife returns in ghostly form to declare to him and her son William, “You’ll be the greatest king we’ve ever had.” Diana, played by Chiara Motley, moves through her scenes in a ghostly manner, first making us think this could be the Queen's return. Harry meets a new woman as he goes clubbing named Jessica, played by the searing Michelle Beck, a nightclub charmer who turns young Harry around and adds to the novela for the Royals who are still in mourning. Jessica immediately makes Harry think in ways that even surprise her.

Beck brings a confidence to the role and adds that sexual play for the young playboy, Harry. Smith is vulnerable sitting with his Burger King hat, as the rebellious ginger prince who wants out of the Royals and to begin a life of his own. Ian Merrill Peakes is Prime Minister Evans who is important with his weekly visits with Charles, Peakes is well executed and powerful in his encounters with his new enemy of sorts and their dynamics on stage is foolproof. Mr. Stevens is the another rival in Parliament played by local favorite Bradford Farwell who knows how to pull the new King’s strings.

The family ends as one in a grand finale as a King is crowned. The majesty of the evening is elegant full of tension, drama and Shakespeare himself would be proud of this new interpretation of his Kings. A.C.T. continues to celebrated their Golden Season with a list of activities and events listed below. KING CHARLES III is a sure sell out and is the play to see to open your fall season of Theatre.


King Charles III

By Mike Bartlett. Directed by David Muse.

Through Oct. 9.

Two hours, 45 minutes.


Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco

(415) 749-2228.

Photo’s by Kevin Berne

Events for Season 50

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