The Naked King | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Naked King 

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Lookingglass Theatre Company, at the Organic Theater.

Lookingglass Theatre reaches a new nadir in yet another failure of style over content. This moronically unfunny revival of Evgeni Shvarts's 1934 trifle The Naked King was banned by Stalin, who may have had more taste than we knew. Gracelessly interweaving three Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales ("The Princess and the Swineherd," "The Princess and the Pea," and "The Emperor's New Clothes"), the play mocks pretentious politicians and their gullible, xenophobic subjects. But the satire's done so incompetently it makes the easy targets look pitiable.

Shvarts's incoherent mishmash reduces Andersen's sturdy stories to clumsy (and vaguely anti-Semitic) cartoons, frantic burlesque, and pointless pratfalls. The forced antics, which resemble really bad Mel Brooks, soon turn tedious, but our ordeal lasts 105 eternal minutes.

Lookingglass's scattershot staging of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita packed a sort of punch. But this drivel, in a plodding translation by Eva Belavsky, is as dismissable as an eighth-grade pageant. Veniamin Smekhov's heavy-handed staging is decidedly amateurish, despite intriguingly grotesque choreography by Sergey Kasadaev and a menacing score by Vyacheslav Ganelin. Cavorting like escapees from Marat/Sade, the 13 members of the ensemble contort themselves into Daumier sketches, with just as few dimensions. A flagrant example of Lookingglass's folly: at the moment of truth, when a little boy reveals the king's nakedness, the prematurely insecure monarch has already wrapped himself in a blanket, making the innocent kid a liar. It's not how it's written, but how it's (ineptly) played.

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