Chicago Theatre Review
Part Two of a Thrilling Theatre Fantasy Trilogy
The House Theatre’s The Crownless King
The Crownless King, being performed at The Chopin Theatre, is the second part in a three-part fantasy trilogy about the adventure of an orphaned young man who realizes his destiny as the King to unite all the lands. No, you are not reading a review for a summer blockbuster film. The Crownless King is a unique theatre experience that rivals the enjoyment I’ve had at any of the recent big budget Hollywood sequels.
The first part of this trilogy, tentatively titled The Crownless King Saga, began with a production of The Iron Stag King during The House Theatre’s 2012-2013 season. Even though the current production running is part two in this fantasy epic, it was easy to catch up with the storyline. It is the tale of young hero Casper Kent, who is advised by a magical storyteller who guides him to his destiny as King. In part one, Casper’s journey was to meet his group of friends and to find a legendary Hammer, rumored too heavy to be lifted by anyone but the rightful King. Spoiler alert: Casper finds this Hammer, lifts it, and is named King. However, his monarchy doesn’t come as easily as expected, and he is forced to deal with the unrest of those across the Salt Sea. While you may be wondering how a theatre production can accomplish a high seas battle, magical Hammers, and not to mention a number of other fantasy tropes, it is best to leave those mysteries to be discovered at the theatre.
Nearly the entire cast is carried over from The Iron Stag King and it comes through in their contagious energy. This production is clearly a reunion of friends and creative collaborators. Their humor is effortless and their affection almost electric at times. Casper Kent is played by Brandon Ruiter, an exuberant and talented young man who looks exactly like he belongs in this type of reluctant hero story. He not only plays the dramatic love scenes, but also fights villains, gives inspiring speeches, and delivers comedic moments brilliantly. He is supported by an equally skilled cast, and the ones that stood out were Brenda Barrie as Lady Olympia, Morgan Maher as Wilke, and Christopher Walsh as Abraham and Bilge. Also the production elements—lights, music, sound, puppetry—did exactly what they were supposed to do, make me lose myself in the story. For a theatre company that certainly doesn’t have the resources of some of the larger shows in town, it really found clever ways to create an exciting new world for this production.
You may be thinking that you’ve heard this story before. Young hero discovers he’s special to set off on adventures to realize his destiny for greatness. Some of these examples the writers of The Crownless King, Nathan Allen and Chris Mathews, might mention are Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, and more. The writers seem fully aware that they are not the first to do this type of story and probably not the last. In fact, in The Crownless King, there is an interesting concept of the power of telling a story, and if the author owns that tale or the hero who lives it.
If you are a fantasy enthusiast or just a fan of fun storytelling, you will be curious about how to experience The Iron Stag King since it played this time last year. Never fear, The House Theatre is presenting two staged readings of The Iron Stag King with the cast on September 15th and 21st. However, these are special events that are not only the staged reading, but include tickets to The Crownless King performance those evenings, as well as opportunities to mingle with the authors and artists responsible for bringing this saga to life. However, these events seem to only come as higher cost package affairs and it is unclear if the staged readings can be experienced without the other elements.
It is probably evident how much I enjoyed The House’s production of The Crownless King. The show was simply fun. It was refreshing and original and did something I don’t expect most theatre performances to do. It made me want to come back for more of the story. The House theatre has created an interesting venture into the types of narrative seen in Hollywood films these days. However, given enough time, any film can be purchased and watched ad nauseam. The fact that all theatre performances live for their moment, never to be repeated in exactly the same way gives The Crownless King a maddening power. It is not the end of the story, nor the beginning so it beckons completion. I want to see part one and I do not want to wait for part three, but I also can not endlessly participate in part two. While this feeling is, as mentioned, slightly maddening, it is also exhilarating. Allen and Matthews have created an episodic experience that our modern digital age seemed to surpass in storytelling. I hope to get an opportunity to experience The Iron Stag King, but otherwise I look forward to that final installment of The Crownless King Saga.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Playing September 8 – Octorber 20 at The Chopin Theatre Upstairs Theatre, 1543 West Division Street, Chicago, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 773.769.3832 or visiting www.thehousetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.