The Crownless King
A fantasy action-adventure on the high seas!
By Nathan Allen and Chris Mathews
Directed by Nathan Allen
PRICES: $15 for Previews, $20-40 for Regular Run
TIMES: Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:00pm
An orphan boy learns he is the rightful heir to the throne, and after a hard-fought battle, young Casper Kent takes his place as the ruler of the Folk. Yet King Casper soon finds himself buffeted by forces on all sides. Seizing for control, the exiled black dragon, Irek Obsidian (voiced by Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner Tracy Letts,) cunningly lures Casper away from the throne. Our band of heroes ventures to the sea where the hooded pirate Davy Boone commands a fleet of Crownless rebels. All the while, Hap the Golden wrests to maintain his hold over the royal tale. As storytellers Hap the Golden and Irek Obsidian each seek to impose their versions of the story, who will step forth to rule as the Crownless King?
The Chopin Theatre
1543 W. Division St., Chicago, IL
Hap the Golden
Kay KronJuly of the Seven Foxes
Tracy LettsIrek Obsidian
Morgan MaherWilke Forsbrand
Blake MontgomeryDavy Boone
John Henry RobertsHollow Thom Gadsden
Christopher M. WalshAbraham Pride & Bilge
- Lady Olympia
- Hap the Golden
- Rienne Boileau
- Kara DavidsonEnsemble
- Patrick FalconEnsemble
- Ben HertelEnsemble
- Kay KronJuly of the Seven Foxes
- Tracy LettsIrek Obsidian
- Morgan MaherWilke Forsbrand
- Blake MontgomeryDavy Boone
- John Henry RobertsHollow Thom Gadsden
- Christopher M. WalshAbraham Pride & Bilge
Rachel WatsonPuppet Designer
Justin VerstraeteFight Choreographer
Eleanor KahnProperties Master
Kelly A. ClaussenStage Manager
Gaby LabotkaAssistant Director & understudy
Dav YendlerDramaturg and map illustrator
- Scenic Designer
- Costume Designer
- Lighting Designer
- Sound Designer
- Movement Director
- Rachel WatsonPuppet Designer
- Justin VerstraeteFight Choreographer
- Eleanor KahnProperties Master
- Kelly A. ClaussenStage Manager
- Gaby LabotkaAssistant Director & understudy
- Dav YendlerDramaturg and map illustrator
As King Casper dresses for his wedding, his storyteller Hap the Golden grills him about his whereabouts.
Featured: Cliff Chamberlain as Hap and Brandon Ruiter as Capser
The Keeper of the Salt, the pirate Davy Boone, addresses his citizens on ships. Defending their right to independence from taxation, he rallies them to war with the King.
Featured: Blake Montgomery as Davy Boone, with Patrick Falcon, Kara Davidson, Ben Hertel and Christopher M. Walsh as Ensemble.
As they’ve opted to open with a brief narrative recap (“Once upon a time, all the folk were free…”), it’s clear that writers Nathan Allen and Chris Mathews are well aware that even the most focused of memories may need a little refreshing before audiences are ready to dive into this sequel to last year’s “The Iron Stag King: Part One.” And they’re right about that; there’s a good deal of backstory that potential viewers should be acquainted with (whether they saw the first installment of this as-yet-unnamed trilogy or not). Because as with part one, “The Crownless King” throws it all out there: Marriage. War. Free will. The disembodied voice of Tracy Letts. It’s a lot to take in.
So, here we go.
After the triumphant hammer-raising at the end of “Iron Stag King,” the newly crowned Casper Kent (Brandon Ruiter) is tasked with leading the kingdom of New Plymouth toward… something. It’s never quite clear what. It seems Casper mainly just wants to preside over a peaceful, prosperous land. But shifty storyteller Hap the Golden (Cliff Chamberlain)—who’s coordinated all the steps up to this point—has another, more violent, plan in mind. And whatever anyone’s plan is, the fierce pirate Davy Boone (Blake Montgomery doing a fairly solid impression of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher from “Gangs of New York”) objects and declares war on New Plymouth in the name of freedom. So now Casper, newly married to fellow warrior Rienne (Paige Collins) in a wedding that takes place early on in act one, must find a solution to the imminent threat of pirates on his shores, while also seeking a way to reunite with his ephemeral dream girl (a doe-eyed Kay Kron) and gain control of his “story” from both Hap and the shadowy Irek Obsidian (Letts). Talk about narrative complications.
Once again the puppetry (Rachel Watson) is captivating, as foxes, birds and a monstrous dragon make their way in, through and around Collette Pollard’s minimal arena-like stage. Similarly, Melissa Torchia’s costumes—a mix of high fantasy and blue jeans—tell us as much about the world we’ve been thrust into as the dialogue.
In the first act Allen and Mathews push the story along at a breakneck pace, and Allen (pulling double-duty as director) moves his actors around the stage just about as quickly as we can follow them (and sometimes too quickly), with ensemble members Kara Davidson, Patrick Falcon and Ben Hertel constantly shifting from character to character. With such a minimal set to work with, it’s sometimes difficult to remember exactly where a given scene is taking place, much less place the action in a workable large-scale framework, which is a problem for this production—and a bigger problem for the trilogy as a whole. The act ends with what’s meant to be a mighty naval battle, but two actors holding model ships is not exhilarating simulation.
But somewhere during the early minutes of the second act of this convoluted tapestry of story-telling, my brain made a quick switchover from the elaborate and deeply thought-out world of Tolkien to the more tongue-in-cheek, self-aware world of Marvel (or at least the Marvel movie universe). Through this lens, the sometimes stilted dialogue and occasional oddly placed one-liners make more sense. When a character that has thus far only been alluded to makes an unexpected appearance reaching out an arm to rescue one of our protagonists, another character quips: “I know it’s a stretch…” And it is.
But this whole production is a stretch. This whole concept is a stretch. Creating a fantasy world on stage that attempts to interweave American folklore with Middle Earth and pirates is a stretch. Asking audiences to witness a trilogy of shows one year at a time for three years is a stretch. But it’s a fun, ambitious stretch. And maybe it doesn’t all work as well as it could; the story could be tighter and the action could be bigger. Sure, the creators have gotten a little too self-indulgent here and there (for all the fast-paced movement, it doesn’t feel like 140 minutes of plot has been revealed).
“The Crownless King” impresses in bits and pieces: when the dragon Irek Obsidian makes an appearance in all his scaly goodness, when a pirate covers a chess board with black pawns to prove a point and nearly every time the delightfully deadpan, Johnny Depp-like John Henry Roberts tosses out a snappy line of dialogue. In the end, it may not be completely cohesive, but it’s certainly fun.
Chris Mathews here, co-writer of The Crownless King.
Like most shows at The House, The Crownless King would likely be rated a solid PG-13. I mean, look at this awesome poster.
As a kid, I’m pretty sure I would have loved this play—but what I was ready for and what my mom thought I was ready for were often different things. So here’s a little primer we hope helps inform your decision.
The show is in two acts, each act currently running at a little over an hour. As far as grown-up content goes, the following seems worth mentioning:
There is a love scene that involves kissing, and then we kind of know what happens next. But there’s no nudity, or anything for the sake of shock value, “realism,” or to challenge the boundaries of depicting physical intimacy within the current milieu of the American theatre. We leave that to co-star Tracy Letts. Or HBO.
There is some interesting stage violence. Some of it intentionally brutal. A character gets beat down—but no stage blood. Another character is held hoisted up while being whipped on his back by a cat o’ nine tails in an interrogation and torture scenario. At the start of the scene, make-up effects make it appear that they’ve been at it awhile. A character gets “Keelhauled." While of course, we don’t see this action as it happens, we understand that it is happening, and we briefly see the stage-bloody results. Again, as with the love scene above, there’s nothing in our efforts that intend to be sensational or test the limits of what you can take. i.e. we are not trying to make you pass out. But we accessorize and scream out in pain as we need to serve the imagination.
If you saw The Iron Stag King: Part One last year, you can expect similar content.
From one parent and fan of the show: “I was very comfortable recommending The Iron Stag King to friends of mine who were attending with children aged 12 and older. That said, the son who I attended the performance with was 9 years old at the time, but he is something of a special-case where theater is concerned, and is more capable of properly absorbing some of the more intense themes than other kids his age. So, I would have rated The Iron Stag King a PG-13 or even a PG-12, with wiggle-room on an individual basis… but I usually would point-out to friends that the show was not necessarily aimed at children, although it could certainly be appreciated by them.”
His son loved it. Lots of kids loved it. And we love having kids at House shows. But of course we leave it to you—we will not turn you away at the door. Also, this is me & Nate’s King Arthur/Star Wars mash-up, so again, it’s not like we’re trying to challenge the mores of what’s appropriate for a wide audience.
Hope this helps.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any further questions or comments.
Chris Mathews co-writer,
The Crownless King
There’s a reason trilogies and even sequels aren’t too common in theatre: they’re challenging to write and hard to produce. Write three new plays. That each stand by themselves BUT build on each other. And they can’t alienate newcomers. Also they all need to be good so that people want to return. And you should introduce new characters. And don’t recycle plot points. And learn from the previous installment.
"Wait. How do you write plays?"
Chris Mathews and Nathan Allen at first read for The Crownless King.
But mythmakers and company members Nathan Allen and Chris Mathews are up to the challenge. Our party of heroes gathered together for the first time in a year to embark upon the quest for the The Crownless King. Faces new and old graced the room for design presentations and the first open read of the work-in-progress script.
Luckily, our heroes are fearless. “I hope you feel full and excited and confused,” Nate told the room after the read. “I want to dive headfirst into this geekhole.”
That geekhole, at least in the first few weeks, is all about answering questions and clarifying the answers. “Who knows what? Who said what to who how?” Say that ten times fast.
Seriously. Try it. It’s fun.
While you’re dying to know the in and out details of The Crownless King, I can’t reveal them to you.
A - I don’t have it memorized,
B - It’s still a work in progress,
and C - That’s no fun!
What I can tell you is that The Crownless King takes notes from all the best Part 2s. It’s bigger, darker, and stronger than the original. There are some incredibly powerful themes at work here: regret, guilt, vengeance, honor, duty, love, and the true meaning of freedom.
With all the pieces set in motion, the plot is a tense, fun, and exciting ride. I love hearing the script evolve as all the artists lend their questions and imaginations to this second instalment, and I can not wait to share the experience with you and the rest of our audience.
In anticipation of The Crownless King, we’ve made Part One available for download in BOTH standard and mobile formats.
The Crownless King website has a ton more content to explore about the world of the show, the characters, and more!
There's just SO MUCH COOL STUFF.
It’s hard getting around without a guide. Luckily, that’s why I’m here.
Last year, we showed you this beautiful map of the Land created by assistant director Dav Yendler.
What better way to welcome you back than this newest piece of artwork? Lifted straight from Davy Boone’s cabin, this nautical chart shows the new locations vital for The Crownless King.
Don’t tell Davy I took it. He’s not one to cross.
SPECIAL EVENTS at THE CROWNLESS KING
STAGED READINGS of last season’s The Iron Stag King
September 15 at 3pm
September 21 at 4pm
Audiences can immerse themselves in the world of the Folk, the Land, and the Hammer at these complete events! First, a re-visit of The Iron Stag King, followed by dinner with the cast, and finally the evening performance of The Crownless King!
Sunday 9/15 – This package includes a ticket to the 3pm reading and the 7pm production. In between, guests are invited to bring a picnic dinner or order an advanced boxed meal to enjoy on stage or in the various nooks and parlors in the Chopin Theatre. The authors and artists will be on hand to answer questions about the extensive and imaginative back-stories woven into the trilogy. Tickets for this evening are $40. BUY TICKETS HERE.
Saturday 9/21 – This VIP package includes a ticket to the 4pm reading and the 8pm production as well as a delicious buffet dinner at Frontier Restaurant, featuring signature cocktails and whole-animal service. The cast and creators will join guests in the private dining room between 6pm and 7pm for more exclusive sneak-peeks into the world of the trilogy. Tickets for this complete evening are $125 per person, and space is limited to 50 guests. BUY TICKETS HERE.
PRE and POST PLAY DISCUSSIONS
Audiences can connect with the artistic team and learn more about the development of the trilogy.
Friday, September 20 – Post-Play Talkback with the actors immediately follows the 8pm performance. FREE
Sunday, September 22 – Insider Intro: A pre-show conversation with writers Nathan Allen and Chris Mathews. Lots of references to Star Wars, Back to the Future, and Lord of the Rings are guaranteed! Talk begins at 6:15 before the 7pm performance. FREE