England, 1789 -- The colonies have successfully revolted and formed a new nation, Parliament and the prime minister face severe political problems, and poor King George III is losing his touch. All this leads to "The Madness of King George III," a comedy recently performed by students at Falls Church High School.
A product of the early 1990s, Alan Bennett's script tells the tale of one of Britain's most storied kings, George III, played by Steve Szatowski. The play opened in 1991 and became an award-winning film in 1994. In the play, the king goes through trials and tribulations with many doctors and servants before having his insanity cured and his power restored.
The play was carried by Szatowski, who did a wonderful job of portraying the jolly old king gone crazy. His delivery of quick British phrases such as "Hey, hey" was splendid. Whether it was anger, humor, shock or confusion, the king always knew what was going on and how to handle himself.
Szatowski and many others in the cast effectively mastered British accents, which increased the humor of certain lines and phrases.
Patrick Hunninghake and Amir Malechasemi performed admirably in featured roles. As Dr. Willis, Hunninghake served as a poised contrast to the king when the two squared off. Malechasemi conveyed the staunch character of Prime Minister Pitt with solemn dignity, especially when addressing an imaginary Parliament full of shouting politicians.
The actors who played the king's red-coated servants and his parade of doctors created excellent ensembles. Among the servants, Malindi Vink's Greville was balanced well with the king. The three doctors played by Marlin Leiva, Daynee Rosales and Kaylyn Epps were hilarious: the important but bumbling doctor, the solemn doctor and the doctor with a peculiar adoration for the king's stool.
Technical aspects of the show were simple but adequate. Justin Huff and Megan Meadows's lighting scheme perfectly lighted the mostly bare stage, although some actors infrequently ignored the lights. Classical music from the 1700s, delivered by sound engineer Ben Marsh, beautifully accompanied the king in dignified scenes.
It is always a breath of fresh air when schools present lesser-known shows. The Falls Church High cast intelligently performed "The Madness of George III." It's not quite Shakespeare, wot wot, but it's quite all right, hey hey!
Winston Churchill High School
There's something mystical about the concept of royalty that appeals to the average hopeless romantic. The idea might seem archaic, and yet a smile, perhaps even a wave, from such celebrated figures can enchant and manipulate the hearts of men. That's the magic of monarchy at work. Indeed, such fascination befell the audience at the Falls Church High School production of "The Madness of King George III."
Written by Alan Bennett, the play depicted the robust middle-age George III's descent into raving madness. Suffering from the effects of porphyria and the mishaps of contemporary doctors, the king is caught up in the intrigues of the royal court and British politics involving rivals Pitt and Fox. If the king's insanity is confirmed, the foppish and flamboyant Prince of Wales will be declared regent.
As "Mr. King," Steve Szatowski demonstrated an astonishing grasp of his character, delivering the dialogue with impressive flourish. Szatowski's wild expressions coupled with bizarre wit captured the already eccentric king's decline into madness against the backdrop of stiff 18th-century Georgian society.
Szatowski's crazed movements commanded attention and further contributed to the tragic humor of the situation. The somewhat stiff, yet affectionate relationship between the king and Queen Charlotte, played by Lorraine Harbison, was exposed admirably, and the chemistry between the pair was evident.
Supporting actors Amir Malechasemi (Pitt) and Patrick Hunninghake (Dr. Willis) did justice to their respective characters, carrying out their roles with grace and poise and at times dripping with sarcasm. Their bemused shock and inner struggles for composure added a nice touch to the absurd hilarity of a raving mad king and his courtiers.
Many of the characters showed an excellent understanding of British humor complemented with grace, delivering their lines with eloquence.
However, there were awkward spots in which some characters recited lines a bit too plainly, lacking stress or emotion. Ensembles interacted with each other well and provided comic relief. Stiffness, a British stereotype, was sometimes overdone.
The simple design by Julia Hughes, Justin Huff and Lauren Baumann allowed the sets to be moved quickly and efficiently. There were some flaws in lighting, but they were quickly overcome by the cast's commitment and enthusiasm. Overall, the effective staging allowed the audience to envision a world of pomp and ceremony.
Despite a drama that must be far removed from the lives of young actors today, Falls Church High School students gave us a rare glimpse of royalty behind closed doors. The line is indeed fine between monarchy and insanity.
Thomas S. Wootton