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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Review: Hamlet (DreamLogic TheatreWorks)

     
     

An ambitious Shakespeare in promenade style

     
    

Jack Sharkey as Hamlet and Meg Elliott as Gertrude, DreamLogic TheatreWorks, Chicago

  
DreamLogic TheatreWorks presents
   
Hamlet
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Scott McKinsey
at Gunder Mansion, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
thru March 5  |  tickets: $30 (w/ open bar) |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

His father was murdered. His mother married the killer. His girlfriend is playing hard-to-get. Why so glum Hamlet? DreamLogic TheatreWorks presents Hamlet, performed in promenade. Hamlet is in mourning. His uncle/step-dad wants hit him to snap out of it. His mom struggles to soothe her husband’s and her son’s mood swings. His girlfriend’s father assesses that Hamlet is a nut job. At her dad’s insistence, Ophelia breaks it off with Hamlet. Despite seeing a ghost, contemplating suicide, and being dumped, Hamlet is focused on getting his uncle to admit to the assassination. He contracts a traveling theatre troupe to perform a play of deception and betrayal. In between sniping at his ex, Hamlet observes the discomfort of his Paul Chakrin as Claudius, Meg Elliott as Gertude and Alexis Meuche as Ophelia in DreamLogic TheatreWorks' 'Hamlet' at Gunder Mansion.uncle’s theatre experience. The show doesn’t quite have Hamlet’s anticipated happy ending. His uncle admits only one thing, like father like son, death is the simple solution. The body count rises as life spirals into a stabbing-drowning-poisoning-stabbing fatal distraction. Presented in promenade, DreamLogics’ Hamlet is Shakespeare in your face, by your side, and behind your back.

A promenade theatrical experience puts the audience on stage. The technique has theatre-goers physically follow the activity from room to room. Set in the Gunder Mansion, DreamLogic utilizes the main floor, including the foyer and the front door. It starts in darkness. The cast is wearing contemporary street clothing. It’s hard to tell the actors from the audience. Flashlights and door pounding provide gripping chaos. The intrigue engages immediately and continues through a thrilling and potentially dangerous swordfight. Being feet, and sometimes inches, away from the action makes it personal. It’s like going to someone’s house for a dinner- murder theme party but with no dinner. (There is, however, an open bar.) Depending on your position…literally, observing the smallest gesture broadens the character’s persona. Gertrude pats her husband’s arm to shush his drunken pontification. Polonius crushes Ophelia’s love life and then patronizingly kisses her on the head. Gertrude and Claudius giggle like newlyweds. The talented cast promotes the virtual reality Shakespearean experience.

Director Scott McKinsey broadens the focal point of the scene to all the characters in the room. Without the fourth wall separation, characters are unable to melt into the scenery. They are constantly on. With the aid of clothing and closeness, the Shakespeare prose becomes conversational with subtle nuances teased out. A stand-out, Rob Glidden (Polonius) gives a blow hard delivery that is hysterical. Glidden is such a dad! Glidden lectures his son about money and his daughter about giving-it-away-for-free. Out of his paternal arena, he bumbles at court with delightful buffoonery. Jack Sharkey (Hamlet) keeps it real. Sharkey’s choices make Hamlet a recognizable guy. Sharkey rants in desperate betrayal and rejection. Sharkey is a hothead haunted by his dad’s ghost and his own honor. Either because of the vicinity or the humanity, Sharkey may be the most authentic Hamlet I’ve ever seen. Other especially poignant performances are a heart-wrenching Ophelia (Alexis Meuche), a maternally torn Gertrude (Meg Elliott) and shiver-inducing ghost/drunkenly disturbing Claudius (Paul Chakrin).

Shakespeare done in promenade is an ambitious undertaking. The classic verse doesn’t lend easily to an intimate experience. Plus, especially in Hamlet, the plays are long! Three hours standing is a challenge. To alleviate any discomfort, DreamLogic has benches and chairs in each room for a momentary respite. The occasional squat combined with comfortable shoes help make it less murderous on the audience. DreamLogic TheatreWork’s Hamlet is a classic and unique entertainment experience.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Paul Chakrin as Claudius and Nick Goodman as Laertes in DreamLogic's 'Hamlet' at the Gunder Mansion.

Running Time: Three hours with a ten minute intermission

  
  

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