Review: The Madness of George III (Chicago Shakespeare)

  
  

The real King Lear

  
  

King George III (Harry Groener) and the royal family greet their subjects in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

  
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
   
The Madness of George III
   
Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by Penny Metropulos
at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier (map)
thru June 12  |  tickets: $44-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Talk about life imitating art. Like the fictional King Lear of Shakespeare’s harshest imagination, in the late 18th century King George III of the troubled House of Hanover descended into madness, then briefly emerged from it as he realized that a king is mortal and that others have suffered as much as he. He too had vicious offspring: two sons – the fat and foolish Prince of Wales, later George IV, and the foppish Duke of York – were every bit as ungrateful as Goneril and Regan (and he had no Cordelia to redeem the curse). George was temporarily “cured” by a tough-love regimen: A monarch who had never been contradicted in his life was restrained by strait-jackets and strapped to a chair like a thief in a pillory. If not worse, the treatment was as vicious as the malady.

Harry Groener as the ailing King George III and Ora Jones as his devoted Queen Charlotte in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III. Photo by Peter Bosy.If Lear’s story is tragic, George’s is pathetic, so great is the gulf between his real illness (porphiria, a medical and not a mental degenerative disease) and the neo-medieval physicians who think the solution is just a question of bloodletting, poultices, and a daily inspection of the chamberpot. It’s too easy to say that George was unhinged by the ingratitude of his American subjects in daring to revolt—or that his peace of mind was subverted by parliamentary plots hatched by his enemies the Whigs (under the unscrupulous Charles Fox). (The government’s Tories, under William Pitt, were not above exploiting the addlepated king as he forfeited control over almost all his functions and functionaries.) His was a classic case of hubris: The body’s conditional state betrayed the monarch’s absolute power.

Alan Bennett’s much-praised 1991 dramatization of this unpleasantness (made into Nicholas Hytner’s superb 1994 film with Nigel Hawthorne as the humbled king) recalls Thomas Hogarth’s most vicious caricatures: It conjures up a dysfunctional dynasty as fraught with friction as any family and a political circus in which Whigs and Tories behave just as badly as our bad boys do in 2011, not 1785.

Penny Metropulos’ all-engrossing staging is a marvel of perpetual motion. Its energy is coiled and concentrated in Tony-nominee Harry Groener’s piledriving performance in the dual title role (the madness as much as the king). In this awesome fall from grace we watch the symbol of the then-world’s greatest empire lose authority as he does his bowels, brain and locomotion. The well-named Groener makes us feel his pain in each particular (and Bennett is nothing if not graphic in his depiction of a body breaking down).

The king’s sole help comes from Ora Jones’ magnificent Queen Charlotte, George’s fearlessly loyal, unjustly neglected wife, his faithful equerries (Kevin Gudahl and Erik Hellman), and his principled and frustrated prime minister (Nathan Hosner). All do legion work above and beyond every theatrical expectation.

     
King George III (Harry Groener) celebrates his recovery with his devoted Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren. King George III (Harry Groener, center) handles government affairs with Prime Minister William Pitt (Nathan Hosner, far left) as Fortnum (Mark D. Hines) awaits orders, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.
King George III (Harry Groener) embraces his straitjacket as he struggles to regain control of his mind in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren. Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones) warns her ailing husband, King George III (Harry Groener), of his government's impending plan to revoke his political powers, as Captain Fitzroy (Kevin Gudahl, center) and Captain Greville (Erik Hellman, left) look on, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

As devious as the disease that wracks the king, Richard Baird plays his heir with odious opportunism, matched by Alex Weisman as his corrupt and corpulent younger brother. David Lively’s Lord Chancellor is amusingly caught in the crossfire between both factions, while the four doctors (Brad Armacost, Patrick Clear, William Dick and James Newcomb) display a cornucopia of ignorance that Moliere would envy.

The near-three hours fly by as pell-mell conflicts ebb and seethe under William Bloodgood’s immense Palladian portico. Its most telling moment is when a recovering George experiences the only good treatment he received: He plays a dying King Lear, suddenly realizing that another man wrote about and an imaginary one felt his plight. That, of course, was to know how powerless you are when fate toys with you and your own body turns on you worse than any enemies could imagine. You feel like a voyeur as you watch this scatological and scandalous story unfold, but you can’t take your eyes away for an instant.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Suspecting a plot to dethrone him, King George III (Harry Groener) attacks his son, the Prince of Wales (Richard Baird), attended by Dr. Richard Warren (Patrick Clear, left), as Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones, right) rushes to quell him and the Duke of York (Alex Weisman) tumbles to escape the fray, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

All photos by Liz Lauren and Peter Bosy.

     

 

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Chicago Shakespeare announces 2010-2011 Season

Chicago Shakespeare - Taming of Shrew Taming of the Shrew, performed in the Courtyard Theater through June 2010

 

Chicago Shakespeare Theater announces their

 
2010-2011 Season

 

As Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) finishes the run of its acclaimed world-premiere family musical The Emperor’s New Clothes (our review ★★★½) this month, it looks forward to the season ahead. Further information for all of the productions listed below is available on the Theater’s website at www.chicagoshakes.com or by calling the CST Box Office at 312.595.5600.

 

Mainstage Shows

 

September 15–November 21

   
   
  Romeo and Juliet
  By William Shakespeare 
Directed by
Gale Edwards
In the
Courtyard Theater
   
  Opening the 2010/11 Subscription Series, world-renowned Australian director Gale Edwards stages William Shakespeare’s iconic romantic tragedy in her CST debut. Edwards, whose work has been seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company and in theaters across America, has assembled a talented ensemble including Canada’s Dora Award winner Jeff Lillico and Joy Farmer-Clary in the title roles. CST veterans returning for Edwards’ production include: Ora Jones, last seen in Twelfth Night (our review ★★★½), as Nurse; Brendan Marshall-Rashid, who delivered Richmond’s memorable final soliloquy in Richard III (our review ★★★★), as Paris; Judy Blue as Lady Capulet; Steve Haggard as Benvolio; and David Lively as Friar Laurence, who previously played King Henry IV in CST’s Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, marking the Theater’s debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006. An award-winning creative team joins Edwards for this landmark production, including Scenic Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, Costume Designer Ana Kuzmanic, Lighting Designer John Culbert, Original Music and Sound Designer Lindsay Jones, Wig and Makeup Designer Melissa Veal, Properties Master Chelsea Meyers, Fight Director Rick Sordelet and Verse Coach Barbara Robertson.
   
Jeff Lillico and Joy Farmer-Clary will play the title roles in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Romeo and Juliet from September 15–November 21, 2010.  Photo by Peter Bosy.Jeff Lillico and Joy Farmer-Clary will play the title roles in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Romeo and Juliet from September 15–November 21, 2010.  Photo by Peter Bosy.

 

 

January 5 – March 6, 2011

   
   
  As You Like It
  By William Shakespeare 
Directed by
Gary Griffin 
In the
Courtyard Theater
   
  CST Associate Artistic Director Gary Griffin directs Shakespeare’s beloved pastoral comedy set in the magical Forest of Arden. This season marks Griffin’s ten-year anniversary with CST, an illustrious history that includes his acclaimed CST Olivier and Jeff Award-winning Sondheim musicals and productions of Private Lives (review ★★★) and Amadeus.
   
   

 

April 13 – June 12, 2011

   
   
  The Madness of George III
  By Alan Bennett
Directed by Penny Metropolus
In the Courtyard Theater
   
  The three-play Subscription Series concludes with The Madness of George III by Olivier and Tony Award-winning playwright Alan Bennett (The History Boys). This masterpiece of royal intrigue about a monarch’s slide into insanity will be directed by Penny Metropolus, whose work has been seen for nearly two decades at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The production marks Metropolus’ return to CST, where she staged The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 2000.
   
   

World’s Stage  and   CST Family

Below the Fold:  World’s Stage productions from Scotland and Ireland, and a CST export to Australia. Additional CST Family programming includes an abridged Shakespeare production and family concerts.

 

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