Director David Muse Prepares for King Charles III

By Shannon Stockwell and Elspeth Sweatman

Buckingham Palace has come to 30 Grant. Prince Charles, William, Kate, and Harry (or rather, the actors who play them) have arrived for rehearsals for A.C.T.’s 50th-anniversary season opener: Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III.

Addressing a packed room of cast, crew, staff, and A.C.T. subscribers for the show’s meet and greet, director David Muse—who refers to himself as “Bartlett’s biggest fanboy in America”—told the story of seeing this play for the first time in London. “I sat there in slack-jawed disbelief for two and a half hours. The play was sophisticated, it was complicated, it was balanced, and it was good Shakespeare.”

In King Charles III, Muse sees many of the conventions of Elizabethan drama. There is a main plot in verse and a subplot in prose. There are soliloquies, rhyming couplets, and extended metaphors. There are supernatural elements, stage directions written into the text, and minimal scenery.

“But there’s also a deeper Shakespeareness about the play,” says Muse. “The play is unironic. It’d be very easy with this subject matter to participate in parody, to participate in satire. But he takes all of his characters seriously, just like Shakespeare does. The play doesn’t take sides—again, just like Shakespeare. It’s a political drama that plays out in very human terms.”

Director David Muse at the first rehearsal for A.C.T.'s 2016 production of King Charles III.
Photo by Shannon Stockwell.

Having worked for seven years at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, (one of the coproducers for this production along with Seattle Repertory Theatre) and having directed a fourth of the Shakespearean canon, Muse knows the popularity of Shakespeare’s classics in the United States. “Americans have been drawn to Shakespeare’s history plays for centuries,” says Muse. “Why? Because they operate as much on the level of the human as the national, because the psychology is as interesting as the politics, and because we as audience members can take imaginative leaps. King Charles III operates like those history plays.”

“Americans know a thing or two,” says Muse, “about struggling to reconcile old traditions and ways of doing things within a radically changing world. We know about celebrities; many Americans are almost as tabloid obsessed with the royal family as the British are. And, of course, Brexit has put Britain on all of our minds.”

Muse concluded, “I think this the real response to the question of why do this play in America: if the play is just flat-out good, if it’s entertaining, and if it’s both emotionally and intellectually gripping, the question of relevance tends to fade pretty quickly in the audience’s mind. And I believe that this is a play that will do that.”

King Charles III runs at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater from September 14 to October 9. Click here to purchase tickets. 

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