“King Charles III” at Seattle Rep

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Robert Joy (King Charles III) in King Charles III. Photo by Michael Doucett.

A cold, interior stonewall reaches seemingly to the heavens at the back of the stage. In it are three niches with stained glass windows and larger than life statues honoring the past. In front of that wall (assume it’s Windsor Castle) England’s past will meet England’s future head on.

The Queen is dead. At long last Charles expects to assume the royal mantle. He’s a bit of a prig, but a well-meaning man. He’s also an idealist of a sort whose moral code demands that he challenge Parliament by not signing a newly written law restricting freedom of the press. Nothing will deter him; he simply won’t sign. He is, after all, about to be invested as king, and kings have power! Ah, but the world has moved forward, and Charles doesn’t understand that. His powers are not absolute. His is an outdated understanding of royal authority, an understanding fully supported by Camilla who doesn’t come off very well here.

Son William represents a more modern concept of royalty, and he’s married to a highly intelligent commoner, one who is as sophisticated as she is beautiful. She has ideas of her own. Poor Charles doesn’t stand a chance.

Meanwhile Harry, like his brother, is a modern man. But as he falls further and further behind in the accession line, he feels free to follow his urges. Part of the delight of this play is watching the ramifications of that behavior.

Mike Bartlett wrote this award-winning play in the blank verse used by Shakespeare, a conceit that no doubt delights English majors. But know this: it in no way restricts the enjoyment of everyone else. The language flows powerfully and beautifully, adding to the grace of the play.

The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. and Seattle Rep partnered in this production. The excellent cast is predominantly from out-of-town, as is Director David Muse. Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling, creator of that magnificent back wall, works nationally, but has previously staged a number of productions in Seattle.

The play was originally produced in London in 2014 and later played on Broadway. My guess is that it will be mounted on stages around the country for many years to come.

Through Dec. 18, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or Seattlerep.org).

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