The Men Who Would Be King and The Ugly Duckling | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Men Who Would Be King and The Ugly Duckling

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The Men Who Would Be King and The Ugly Duckling, Merattic Theatre Company, at the Theatre Building. In Melora Kordos's new play, The Men Who Would Be King, Shakespeare's Macbeth, Richard III, Claudius, and Cassius meet in hell to elect the underworld's new ruler. If the thought of watching such a play--scripted in ersatz Elizabethan English--elicits a groan, you're not the only one to feel that way. Merattic's hesitant, dispassionate debut feels like a collective groan from a group of young actors who can't wait for the final blackout. From the opening moments, when two evil specters in face paint and ballet slippers slink and hiss like house cats on barbiturates, to the final showdown when Richard (inexplicably endowed with superpowers) inflicts upon his rivals the ultimate torture of resting comfortably, this show runs on fumes alone. There's no energy left to explain why all the characters wear belted togas or how men from different countries and centuries recognize each other at first glance.

The company fares a bit better with A.A. Milne's drawing room fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, about a king trying to marry off his ugly daughter, primarily because the script is coherent. Much of the humor, however, is forced. If Merattic's mission is "to bring people back into the theater"--and not to make theater because it beats sitting around--the company needs to go back to the drawing board.

--Justin Hayford

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