“The king is dead, long live the king!” shouts the royal guard. This awkward state between life and death is examined in Eugene Ionesco’s play “Exit the King.”
“King” is the third and final main stage play of the year, directed by Professor of Theater Neil Blackadder. The play tells the story of King Berenger I, played by senior Noel Sherrard, a king who has ruled for over 400 years. Although he was supposed to prepare himself for the Big Sleep by focusing on death every day, he has put off this task and is quite ill-equipped for his demise when it finally comes.
From the character’s dialogue, the audience knows that Berenger I was once a great king who conquered many nations. He is credited with taking fire from the gods, inventing the airplane and even commanding the weather. However, as the play starts, his power has massively decreased so he can’t even walk unaided.
The duality between life and death is represented by the king’s two wives. His first wife, Queen Magritte, played by freshman Tracy Ewert, is frustrated by the king’s utter inability to accept the idea of his death. Throughout the play she chides him for not abdicating earlier and chides Queen Marie for allowing him to ignore the inevitable so easily.
“You’re going to die in an hour and a half,” Queen Magritte says in the play’s most famous line, “You’re going to die at the end of the show.”
Ewert plays the role with a sharpness that fits Magritte, but does not allow the character to be a completely emotionless snow queen. Although she is harsh towards the pathetic king, she allows herself to show a more compassionate side when he needs her.
Queen Marie, the King’s beloved second wife, played by junior Dakota Scott, wants to reject even the idea of his death. She has helped him ignore death in previous years by distracting him with charity balls and charity balls for people who throw charity balls. She tries to distract the king by appealing to his love for her and with the promise of continuing his rule as he had before, even though it is clearly impossible.
“Many people have delusions of grandeur,” Magritte tells Marie, “You have delusions of triviality.”
The cast was rounded out by the palace staff. Juliet, the royal household’s pragmatic and overworked domestic servant, played by sophomore Chloe Luetkemeyer, works to keep the palace in order when it’s literally falling apart around her, and works to make the king’s death as comfortable as possible. The confused castle guard, played by freshman Jacob Schneider, stands loyally by the king, announcing in amusingly simplistic terms what is going on in the play. Junior Jack Dryden is very entertaining as the pontificating royal doctor and executioner.
The king denies his death as forcefully as he can. Even when the king’s constellation disappears from the sky, young people become old within the space of a day, the seasons change overnight and he is enfeebled to the point where he seems constantly inebriated, he still tries to ignore the fact that his death is near.
“The abnormal thing is the new normal, so everything works out fine,” the King says when confronted with the catastrophes in his kingdom.
He goes on to say that if he so chooses, he can cure himself—despite the fact that everyone and everything in the kingdom is incapable of obeying his orders. “I’ll die when I have the time, when it suits me,” he says.
Since Ionesco was not a mind reader, it was obvious that a few jokes in the performance were added for the modern Knox audience, but Blackadder made it clear that he did not want the controversy that cropped up after the performance of “Medea.” The few changes that were made were obvious ones, which Blackadder said were not more unusual or obtrusive than what any other theater company might do.
The play’s use of wit and physical humor keep the audience laughing, but its thought-provoking treatment of the dying process keeps viewers enthralled until the beautifully understated conclusion.