‘Naked King’ mixes politics, fairy tales
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media March 17, 2011 8:46AM
THE NAKED KING
When: 7:30 p.m. March 24 to 26 and 2 p.m. March 26 and 27
Where: North Central College’s Meiley-Swallow Hall, 31 S. Ellsworth St., Naperville
How much: $30 for adults and $20 for students and seniors
Contact: 630-637-7469 or visit www.northcentralcollege.edu/showtix
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Chicago’s Organic Theater Company debuts a new play at North Central College in Naperville.
Written by Russian playwright Yevgeny Shvarts in 1933, “The Naked King” draws from Hans Christian Andersen’s classic stories “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Swineherd” and “The Princess and the Pea.”
All three plays are interwoven into one engaging tale of a princess, a swineherd and a couple of kings. The princess is the same character throughout the three stories, and the titular swineherd is also the weaver.
“The kings are played by the same actor — one might suggest kings are interchangeable,” Gelman said.
Although based on children’s stories, “The Naked King” is an implicit attack on Nazism and Soviet social communism.
“It’s a very funny play, and very theatrical, and we are making it more so,” said director Alexander Gelman. The play, he said, was written at the peak of internal purges in the Soviet Union when people were arrested and jailed. It was at the time of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and the beginning of World War II.
“The very act of writing this play defied authority,” he said.
There are 10 major characters and another dozen minor characters, and all are played by six actors — five men and a woman.
“There are different kinds of magic: there’s sleight of hand, there’s falling in love, and then there’s theatrical magic, and this explores theatrical magic more than TV ever could,” he said. “It’s an ongoing celebration of magic of theater.”
The Organic Theater Company was founded in the 1970s by artistic director Stuart Gordon with a vision of creating productions with a permanent group of artists over a sustained period of time and presenting them in a rotating repertory, much like orchestras and dance companies.
“Organic Theater Company has worked together for a long time,” he said. “Everyone is a member and the decision to join comes out of mutual respect and commitment. That allows us to focus exclusively on the work and nothing else, on developing a body of work over the years.”
When asked if the play is political, Gelman said the answer depends on your definition of the word.
“If by political, you mean that it examines the way power is used — as it affects both the possessor of power and the victim of it — then absolutely,” he said. “How often do we see a leader we admire wearing no clothes? Figuratively, of course.”
Although the story is a sweet, funny children’s fable, he hopes it will still provoke thought and discussion amongst audience members.
“We always want to engage every part of the audience — the heart and the mind,” he said. “I think, first and foremost, this is not a lecture class. We want the audience to have a great time — we are having a fabulous time in rehearsals; we really are. Beyond that, it’s a way of reconnecting with your childhood. These are fairy tales. This is not scary unless you look at the underlying issues that have their own layer of scary. Expect pleasure, joy, fun and a little bit of thinking.”
The play is not recommended for children.