The Audience at Little Lake Theater | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Audience at Little Lake Theater

Peter Morgan’s play about Queen Elizabeth and her prime ministers lives in the subtext

Allison Cahill and Bracken Burns in The Audience, at Little Lake
Allison Cahill and Bracken Burns in The Audience, at Little Lake

God save the Queen! Coming from a fervid anti-monarchist like me, such sentiments might mean that our idiot president has once again said something so hateful it makes democracy seem like a ridiculous way to name a leader.

But maybe it’s because I’ve just seen The Audience, at Little Lake Theatre, and this 2013 play by Peter Morgan, dramatizing Queen Elizabeth’s weekly meetings with her prime ministers, makes having a queen seem infinitely superior.

I don’t know whether Morgan’s a monarchist, but he’s certainly pro-Elizabeth Windsor; he renders her an impeccably intelligent woman, slyly amusing, politically savvy and dedicating her entire life to “her people.”

The Little Lake production is a local premiere, but this is a script destined to be revisited many times. In its way, it’s classic Acting 101: Two characters, each with an opposing objective, and everything must be played as subtext (one does not contradict a queen, at least if one doesn’t wish to lose one’s head).

Allison Cahill plays Her Maj and does outstanding work intimating the passion just below the surface. She charts the Queen’s maturation (aging 60 years) from frightened, determined, young woman to the steely, if sad, longest-reigning monarch in English history.

The Audience, in a surprising way, is also about an unrequited, intangible love between Elizabeth and Harold Wilson (Labor Prime Minister beginning in 1964). Morgan suggests that this brash, liberal “working man” was the Queen’s favorite; Joe Eberle plays the role, and his scenes with Cahill are entertaining and moving.

Patricia Cena Fuchel is the evening’s other notable minister, the redoubtable Margaret Thatcher. Morgan has written her as a hard-eyed opportunist, easily calling to mind Glenda Jackson’s famous quote that Thatcher was just “Reagan in a frock.” Fuchel attacks the role guns a-blazing, providing plenty of fireworks in the second act.

Director Ponny Conomos Jahn could have worked a bit more on the whole “subtext” thing, and I’ll refrain from making cracks about the woeful dialects. But this very large cast — with Madeline Dalesio’s charming turn as Young Elizabeth — all pull together to create a deftly swift and enjoyable production.

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