The Idiot King
reviewed by Larry Kunofsky

The King sees dead people. Walking in a royal procession, the King is horrified by images of bloody, lifeless bodies strewn along his path. No one among his royal entourage can see what he sees, though; the horror is all his.

While it may sound on the surface like something out of The Sixth Sense, the opening scene of The Idiot King takes on a meaning similar to the parable of "The Emperor's New Clothes"—reality appears stark naked before someone surrounded by denial. What may sound utterly horrifying on the surface becomes outrageous and hilarious in Susana Cook's The Idiot King, a profoundly funny play about the unspeakably awful things that our leaders too often pretend not to see.

We're in the royal palace. The King is pampered by his nurse, who loves his every bodily function, and placated by yes-men who cautiously try to teach the King arithmetic without sounding like communists. (The King doesn't trust arithmetic because of subtraction; why would anyone allow anything to be taken away from them in a good system like capitalism?) The King is a despot. He has people murdered at his whim and embraces religion as a tool to keep the weak in line. His Queen tows the party line. She tries to be even-handed and fair, but blood is on her hands, just as it is on her royal husband's. The King and Queen have a cabinet meeting where they host their beloved Pope, and the problems of the kingdom are discussed (the dangerous belief of evolution, the terror of a woman in control of her own body, etc.). I'm not sure that I could find this kingdom on a map, but all of this does sound eerily familiar to me.

This is the first play by Susana Cook that I've seen, or even heard of before, but she's a playwright, actor and director from Buenos Aires whose work is often presented at Dixon Place. Now that I've seen this play, I will make sure to check out her work from now on. Her writing is sharp, accessible, and righteously unfair and unbalanced against the ruling class. As a director, she keeps everything onstage in perfect disorder. She is an amazing actor who plays the King with both menace and magnetism; she reminds me a little of Rock Goddess Patti Smith, which means that Susana Cook is kind of a superstar—you can't really take your eyes off her while she's on stage.

The best element to The Idiot King, though, is the ensemble. Anni Amberg, Jennifer Fomore, Jose Maria Garcia Armenter, Tracy Hazas, Karen Jaime, Saroya Odishoo, and Marsa Suarez-Orozco all seem completely out of their minds, but their chaotic characterizations are presented with great comic skill. I was often unsure if their hilarious asides were scripted or if they were ad-libbed, which added to the irrepressible fun of the evening.

The standout performance, though, is by Erin Markey, who, as the Queen, affects a voice uncannily like Miss Piggy's, if Miss Piggy were a selfish, egotistical shrew (actually, Miss Piggy is very much like that, now that I think of it, but this is a very non-Henson-like affair.) Every single one of the Queen's lines received a huge laugh from the audience on the night I saw this play. Silly voices are a dime a dozen, but this was a real performance worthy of the warm response.


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© Susana Cook 2009