PicksInSix Review: THE KING'S SPEECH Chicago Shakespeare Theater
A DEFINING MOMENT FOR A MONARCHY
There is an uncommon alliance in “The King’s Speech,” David Seidler’s magnificent play that opened Friday evening in a smart and savvy Michael Wilson-directed Chicago Shakespeare Theater North American premiere at The Yard on Navy Pier. The bond between a future King of England and an Australian actor who serves as his speech therapist—portrayed with awe-inspiring depth by Harry Hadden-Paton and James Frain, respectively—becomes a defining moment for a monarchy still reeling from the effects of one world war and the growing threat of another.
Against this historical backdrop, and with the death of King George V (John Judd) in 1936, David, Prince of Wales (Jeff Parker), ascends to the throne facing immediate controversy from the Church of England on moral grounds involving his relationship with Wallis Simpson (Tiffany Scott). David’s disregard for the position of his stammering younger brother Albert (Hadden-Paton) characterizes the devastating impact on the younger man’s life. Sensing the need to project a strong public image in the difficult times ahead, Albert’s wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Night) secretly enlists the services of Lionel Logue (Frain) to take him on, despite Albert’s insistence that his stammering is an incurable affliction.
The initial sessions are tempestuous and reveal other issues at play. Albert’s difficult childhood experiences—teased due to his affliction, forced to be right-handed and a condition that required him to wear wooden stints on his legs—make it clear that he is a product of the same Victorian-age morality that threatened the future of his brother’s reign.
Elizabeth’s faith in Albert is unyielding, even though she has doubts about Logue’s abilities. She knows that Albert has the wisdom, world view and stamina to lead the country. And as the delicate transformation unfolds and Albert discovers common ground to face the uncertain future as its new monarch, “The King’s Speech” soars with riveting passion and purpose.
Hadden-Paton and Frain exude explosive energy, elevating each member of Wilson’s extraordinary cast. Elizabeth Ledo is delightful as Myrtle Logue, Lionel’s wife who, with the exceptionally gifted Night, create real connections for the couples, while Alan Mandell (Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury), Kevin Gudahl (Winston Churchill), Judd and David Lively (Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister) each render consummate performances.
Kevin Depinet’s expansive, coffered, and angled set design, awash with Hana Kim’s projection and Howell Binkley’s brilliant lighting, and enveloped in John Gromada’s rich original music and sound design, create a regal setting for the company in David C. Woolard’s precise costumes. Not a small task—and marvelously executed—in The Yard, Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s glorious new performance venue.
NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE THEATER
THE KING’S SPEECH
through October 20, 2019
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