Yale Repertory Theatre at the University Theatre: Yale Rep celebrates its 50th anniversary by presenting the world premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Scenes From Court Life: or The Whipping Boy and His Prince.
Cleverly juxtaposing action that took place in 17th Century Great Britain, with the Stuarts – Charles I and Charles II and the American presidential Bush family, Ruhl points out the squabbles as well as the tactics “ruling families” use to protect their interests. More importantly, she shows how American families are closely aligned with “dynastic privilege.” In the playbill, the playwright quotes William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State as saying: “We elect a king for four years.” That led Ruhl to consider dynastic succession for the basis of this play.
There are many comparisons in the play that proved to be quite funny. The first scene sets the way the play will unfold when an elegant Baroque dance, with elaborate period costumes quickly switches to a Texas line dance complete with cowboy attire. This opening sets the scene for alternating comparisons between the two families. Some of them were quite hilarious, but they all showed the privileges that these families enjoyed at the expense of others.
The whipping boy comes into play because royalty was considered divine and therefore Charles I and Charles II could not be punished for misdeeds. They were assigned a whipping boy who endured the punishment for them. It was quite a scene.
Another especially comic scene that had the audience laughing out loud was when the “groom of the stool” wiped the King’s derriere. Such a position actually existed and though it sounds like a stinky job, it was a noble position because these people became confidantes to the king.
As for the most comic of the Bush family incidents, it was quite a funny scene when an obstinate George Jr. announces to his parents’ surprise that he was going to run for Governor of Texas. His parents and especially his brother were mortified because Jeb was running for Governor of Florida. Barbara Bush says: “But George, you can’t, Jebbie’s running this year, it’s his turn.”
Jeb puts in his two cents with “I’m worried if we both run at the same time, we’ll look like a friggin’ dynasty. Like a joke.”
While there are many funny lines, the meaning of the play is no joke. America does seem to have dynasties. Certainly the family lines of privilege are more prominent now than in any other time in history, both in England and America.
As in most Yale productions the acting is superior and the staging superb under the attentive direction of Mark Wing-Davey. Greg Keller plays both Charles II and George W. Bush. He sounds exactly like George W. Bush. Mary Shultz makes a perfect Barbara Bush and Angel Desai is a fine Laura Bush. Danny Wolohan plays the whipping boy and Jeb Bush. Michael Raine’s choreorgraphy is quite entertaining, especially with the music under music director Angel Desai. Marina Draghici’s scenic and costume designs are quite stunning and Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting design and Shane Rettig’s sound design accent the proceedings quite well. The play runs through Oct. 22. Box office: 203-432-1234.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]