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The Girl Who Would be King by Jan O’Connor – Los Angeles Theater Review




picture - The Girl Who Would Be KingTheater Review

by Tony Frankel 

published July 22, 2010 


The Girl Who Would Be King

now playing in Los Angeles at El Centro Theater  

through August 1 


Once upon a time, Mark Twain wrote the short story A Medieval Romance, in which a girl is secretly raised as a boy for the purpose of inheriting the King’s throne from her uncle, the King. The Girl is sent incognito to the King’s castle for training, only to find that the King’s daughter (heir to the throne lest she “prove stainless”) is now with child. To complicate matters, the Princess has fallen in love with The Girl Who Would Be King, who shall be put to death should her true identity be revealed. The only way to save herself is by pronouncing death to the Princess, who suddenly proclaims the soon-to-be crowned King as the father of her child!


Zounds! What happens next? Well, we don’t know. At this point in his very short piece, Mr. Twain writes “The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get [her] out of it again--and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole business…I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.”


Playwright Jan O’Connor decided to take on Twain’s hurled gauntlet by creating The Girl Who Would Be King, now showing in a world premiere at the El Centro Theatre.    Although the show is successful in many surprising ways (including uproarious moments and a near-flawless first act), her play loses steam at the same point that Mr. Twain tossed aside his pen. However, this rambling and fractured tale is still rife with fun. Credit director Richard Tatum for crafting a context a la Paul Sills’s Story Theatre: we see the actors’ tennis shoes under their representational costumes as they assume different roles on a delightful toy-box set by Shelley Delayne, who also plays the perky, impish, and thoroughly entertaining narrator of the story, interacting with the characters on stage.


O’Connor wisely steers from socio-political themes and sticks to good, old-fashioned story-telling. Our heroine Basil (the stalwart and vulnerable Riley Rose Critchlow) has been given added depth: she is torn by the virtual removal of her mother, the Duchess (Adriana Bate, who evokes our empathy with her pathos); and finds requited love with the Princess Clotilda (Whitton Frank). Miss Frank offers one of the most astounding performances of the year: she succeeds with brilliant comic timing reminiscent of Vaudeville actors that transferred to silent film; she has a wide-eyed, “Abba-Dabba Honeymoon” porcelain face that twinkles with stardom. She is reason enough to visit the Kingdom of Flugelhorn.


Act Two gets bogged down in characters’ self-analyzing and a stretched-out moral (the analyzing should be left to the narrator). A modicum of sophistication would be a welcome asset, as well – when King Heimlich (Ross Gottstein) reprimands his “nephew” with “Don’t get your chain mail in a twist,”  it may elicit a chuckle, but it feels cheap.


You may sense the script falling apart at times, and even disagree with the directorial style, but you should support this outing, for it is laden with potential and there is pleasurable amusement in store.         


tonyfrankel @


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