It had been a hot minute since my last visit to the Pasadena Playhouse. Not since February for Al Pacino's highly anticipated performance in God Looked Away to be exact. Pasadena is a bit of a hike from my typical west side haunts, but since it had also been a while since my last time watching Adam Haas Hunter perform, I was further inspired to make a return. Also another major incentive is that I'm obsessed with the avocado (w/ beans, no cheese) burritos at Lucky Boy, a divey little burrito joint off Arroyo Parkway. The are also famous for their breakfast burritos, served all day, and their homemade salsa/sauce. I'll never leave Pasadena without scooping up one of those addicting little avo bad boys with a side of fresh onion rings and a medium Coke. Even if it means saving it for lunch the next day. Absolutely delish.
Ok, so before my whole piece on Mike Bartlett's King Charles III becomes an ode to Lucky Boy, let me get back on track. I was lucky enough (lolz) to attend the opening night performance complements of my friend Emily who was working as a production assistant on the show. I was accompanied by my good friend Ben, a Pasadena local who is both a teacher and musical theatre artist. Ben is a very creative, peaceful, motivating guy and as another theatre practitioner, I love hearing his options and feedback on the shows we visit. Also Ben understands and honors my obsession with Lucky Boy. I need more friends like that in my life.
Moving right along, my greatest takeaway from this show was the experience of watching real historical figures, who are still alive, living on stage under imaginary circumstances. It's a pretty crazy feeling and it makes me WISH I could have watched this with a British audience, to feel their reactions and perception of the show. I dream about getting in a time machine and watching this at the Almedia Theatre back when it all started in 2014. Ben noted that this show was essentially a fan fiction of the Royal Family. We know these people and the play emphasizes how they are celebrities by birth. To suggest that the current queen has died from the very first scene of the play is ballzy, but this is the theatre and you've got our attention. The structure made me wonder what would happen if someone were to write a fictional, yet non-satirical account of popular, semi-respectable American figures. How would something like that be received by American audiences and what would it say about our relationship with celebrity culture? It's a rough comparison because really, no one can compare with the stature and legacy of the Royals.
As someone that had a fairly negative opinion of Charles, Prince of Wales (that was 100% influenced by primarily American media) I liked that the story allowed me to see him as a more graceful ruler and the protagonist of the story. For the first time in my life, I felt for Charles. Although the story is told in contemporary, yet proper English, the play unfolds in a fashion very reminiscent of Shakespeare. At one point I wrote down "Hamlet vibes" in my notebook. The show succeeds in reading like a Shakespearian play because it nails the drama as well as the humor. The play was funny! At times, at the right times. And equally dramatic in other peak climactic moments. There were times when I feared I was falling out of understanding exactly what was happening, as I am highly out of touch with the structure of the British government, but the play does a good job of explaining itself just enough. Ben and I did find ourselves in conversation with a random couple while exiting the theatre, trying to talk out the dynamics of the Royal Family line. It definitely got us chatting. Anyway, all this innovative storytelling is exactly why I need to get back on track with reading ALL the Tony nominees for best play every year. So much theatre, so little time.
This is not the best play I have ever seen, but I would recommend seeing it for the truly unique risk in storytelling Bartlett takes in his perception of the Royal Family and the community surrounding them. The play makes a very bold statement in asking why they are still necessary. I can say that I have never seen a play like this, and we're lucky to have something so innovative in both its delivery and content running in the LA theatre community. The wide range of content of Michael Michetti's work as a director speaks to his talent and continued effort to bring much-needed cutting-edge storytelling to greater Los Angeles. King Charles III runs at the Pasadena Playhouse through December 3, and I would recommend you see it while it is still at the height of its timeliness.