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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

King Charles III
Ohio Shakespeare Festival
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's review of Br'er Cotton

Geoff Knox, Scott Miller and Joe Pine
Photo by Scott Custer
The Queen is dead! Long live the King! In King Charles III, the Shakespeareanish offering by playwright Mike Bartlett at Ohio Shakespeare Festival, the beloved Queen Mum has passed and at long last, it is time for Charles to ascend to the throne. Unlike his mother, who was the quintessential figurehead obediently making royal appearances around the world and a rubber stamp for the whims of Parliament, Charles wishes to actually lead the country, much in the spirit of his forefathers.

The first order of business is a parliamentary bill for statutory regulation of the press. Charles (Scott Miller) fears that, in spite of a history of royal bashing by the British press, the bill would restrict basic freedoms, thus he refuses to give royal assent. When the House of Lords and House of Commons meet to pass the measure in spite of Charles's lack of support, he shows up in full uniform regalia and, taking a cue from a distant monarch, dissolves Parliament, forcing them to hold national elections.

Not only is the entire country thrown into chaos, but the royal family as well. Princess of Wales Catherine (Tess Burgler) sees the situation as an excuse for England to abolish the monarchy once and for all, denying her husband William (Joe Pine) and his future children their lavish lifestyle. Camilla (Dede Klein) sees a threat from Kate and William to replace King Charles, "the man she made," and her dream of becoming Queen. Prince Harry (Geoff Knox), on the other hand, has fallen in with a commoner girl, Jessica (Rachel Lee Kolis), whose anti-royal views have him thinking of chucking the entire mess altogether and actually getting a real job.

Stuck in the middle are Tristram Evans, the Prime Minister (Scott Shriner), and Mr. Stevens, the Leader of the Opposition (Jason Leupold) who simply desire that the government goes back to where it was before all the hubbub and the royal family once again behaves itself. The situation further escalates as rioting breaks out across the country and Charles orders additional guards around Buckingham Palace along with an army tank.

Add to this the ghost of Princess Diana (Kelsey Tomlinson), who separately informs both Charles and William that each will become the greatest king that England has ever known.

Although well received by critics both in England and America, and nominated for and winning several awards, the play received mixed reviews from the public, and the royal family deferred comment. The play was also broadcast as a ninety-minute show on BBC and later as part of a PBS Masterpiece segment.

The over two hours (with intermission) Ohio Shakespeare Festival production is, to use a pun, royally magnificent, maybe a notch better than the PBS Masterpiece version. To begin with, the role of Catherine is toned down to be a more genteel woman who wishes to see the royal traditions carried on. Tess gives a fine and authentic portrayal of this complicated role. Her husband, Joe Pine, plays opposite her as Prince William, who seemingly grows with the demands of the job until, with Kate's support, he is able to do the right thing for all of England. The role of Charles is masterfully cast for veteran actor and director of the Cleveland School of the Arts Scott Miller, who brings out the many faceted nuances of this intriguing man. His subtle gestures and speech does much to enhance his character.

Geoff Knox as the homme du monde Prince Harry seriously believes he could walk away from this most lavish of lifestyles and take up with a royal-hating commoner. Harry's foil is Jessica, played by Rachel Lee Kolis, who gives a finely textured performance that goes beyond the norm. She plays the role with full attention to details. Additional exceptional performances are given by Scott Shriner as Tristram Evans the Prime Minister, and Jason Leupold as Mr. Stevens, the Leader of the Opposition. Both actors are well versed in their roles.

Nancy Cates does a stupendous job as director, bringing this cast through a difficult and complicated show. While the set and props are kept to a simple minimum, the costuming, specialty costuming, and specialty props by Kelsey Tomlinson and Marty LaConte should truly get star billing. From the simple, elegant daywear to the royal uniforms and extravagant coronation robes, nothing is left to chance. Buddy Taylor's lighting is well balanced across the entire stage, giving full illumination to the proceedings.

Although the play is written in blank verse, it is easy to follow and would be a good introduction for young children as to the wonders of live theater, although the two hour plus sit time could pose a challenge.

Americans have always been fascinated with England and especially the royal family. This "what if" tale is not only entertaining but possibly closer to truth than some in England would wish to admit. The surprise ending makes for a splendid bit of conversation on the way home.

King Charles III, through April 22, 2018, on stage at Ohio Shakespeare Festival, Greystone Hall 6th floor, 123 S. High Street, Akron OH. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling 888-718-4253 (opt. 1).

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