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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Crownless King

Or: The Storyteller Strikes Back

At long last all that was wrong is now right. In a far off time in a far off place the young King, Casper Kent (Brandon Ruiter) once orphaned and hidden from the eyes of evil has found a band of boon companions, hefted the magic hammer of his ansestors, and reunited the diverse kingdoms of The Folk, all under the careful and benign direction of Hap the Golden (Cliff Chamberlin) a powerful storyteller who has set the whole adventure in motion. For a finishing touch on the tale, Hap is even planning a wedding twixt Casper and his friend Rienne Boileu (Paige Collins) to seal secure an heir to the throne. After years of misrule and suffering all are certain to live happily ever after.

But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Not all The Folk want a king to bow and scrape to and those who sail the wide seas have railed behind the black flag of Davie Boone (Blake Montgomery) notorious pirate and rabid populist who intends to give the king no quarter. Stirring Boone to rebellion is July (Kay Kron) a mysterious woman with her own designs on the young king. But little do either realize that they are just pawns in a larger game, the game of the mighty storyteller Irik Obsidian (Tracy Letts) who’s own tale, one that will not end so happily, has begins to fill the sail’s of war.

The second installment of a trilogy conceived by Nathan Allen and Chris Mathews, The Crownless King relies heavily on its predecessor the Iron Stag King to set up the world of the Folk and we are immediately plunged in to this land, media res. It may take a minute or six to figure out why there is tension between the King and his Storyteller or why Hollow Thom (John Henry Roberts) is a wanted as a war criminal. But be assured, the plot points and world details of the previous production are all carried over without much fuss or patronizing, and if you can put two and two together you’ll figure out what’s going on. Though I confess to not seeing The Iron Stag King when I had the chance, I can be reasonably certain The Crownless King does not suffer from Sequel Atrophy, and can vouch for it as a Mighty drama in its own right, an epic of Princess Bride proportions.

Quite apart from the thrilling saga the show has some of the best used production values you’ll find in this city or any other. Collet Pollard’s set is both an arena and a fire side, both interment and vast. A square of frothy green, hemmed in and drawn up by a cage of pipes, the playing space and audience feels like they are at once amongst the action and viewing it from a great. It is a space where magic happens, for we are treated to massive sea battles, to birds and foxes who peck at our feet and nuzzle our hands, there are swords thrust at out faces, and acts of sorcery are summoned before our very eyes. Fonts of admiration should go to all the shows designers for letting their using the best of their art, but special mention goes to Melissa Torchia, for making armor and robes of state from todays sweaters and peacoats, sound designer Joshua Horvath, for creating a sound scape that rattles us to the bones and makes our hair stand on end, and stage manager Kelly A. Claussen who, through sorcery of her own, somehow manages to keep the whole thing running smoothly.

It is surprisingly hard to play an old style saga. The general temptation is to stomp around shouting “Ho landlord!” and the like, and surrender the character to whatever archetype they cleve to. Not so with this cast, they take themselves and their story very seriously. Granted, many performances are guileless and painted in broad strokes, but what they lack in subtlety they make up for in grace of expression, physical prowess, and sincerity in their intention. Two particular standouts are Montgomery and Chamberlain. The former excels as the slaty pirate Boone who’s fearsome presence and saliva accented speeches bring us forward no matter how much we fear his sword or his spittle. As for the latter, the story may be about Casper but its Hap the Golden we see go on a spiritual journey, with an unpleasant destination A Kingmaker loosing control of his King, Chamberlain slowly begins to slide into desperation, literally pulling his next gambit from inside his hat, devolving by degrees from benevolent father figure to pushy shoulder-devil to...Something Else entirely.

The on going debate, over whether it is better to be unified and kneel to one authority or free to choose your own destiny and be just as horrid as you like, are never quite settled enough into solid questions and, couched in nautical terms it tends to swim a bit before settling on your ear. That aside, the language of The Folk, though flowery and formal is to the point and gets the job done, be it to illustrate the flutter of long buried love quickening (rocking it, Mr. Wash and Madam Barrie), or reveal one fatal flaw in negotiations (nicely done Mr. Montgummery), or offer up a compelling reason for obedience or liberty( well plaid Madam Collins). The story, crammed to the gills with incidents from keel-hauling to kisses, is artfully constructed and every scene or line, no matter how minor may contain a spark to set off a blazing fire later in the evening.

I must warn if you are a fan of sleek, understated modern dramas about people in apartments picking their lives apart, you may find the Crownless King a little flashy for your tastes. If on the other hand you like grand epics, swashbucklers, philosophical quandaries, and the tales of King Arthur or the saga of Star Wars, then hustle down to the Chopin. It’s a Mighty story, worth loosing your breath over, and a remarkable show well worth a standing ovation.

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