The King in Yellow, a Review

by Alec Clayton

Left to right: Ethan Bujeaud as Frank and Victoria Austin as Darah

Theatre Artists Olympia’s The King in Yellow by Xander Layden is a play about a book of the same title that is about a play of the same name which carries a horrible curse. The curse is that whoever reads it will go mad. It is Edgar Allan Poe meets The Importance of Being Earnest, and it is a perfection of acting, directing and stagecraft.

The first act is an intelligent and funny comedy of manners with hints of something else beneath the surface. Act Two is an edge-of-your-seat horror show with references to some of the storyline from Act One.

Delilah, a countess, (Paige Doyle), and her quiet and eerily strange daughter, Darah (Victoria Austin) drop in for a visit with Ambrose (Rodman Bolek), a stiff, pretentious and wealthy young lord who claims to be an artist, and his friend Frank (Ethan Bujeaud), an actor who appears sometimes as himself and sometimes in drag as Francine.

Left to right: Rodman Bolek as Ambrose and Paige Doyle as Delilah

Being or not being oneself turns out to be a major theme of the play.

Into this mix comes Giles the manservant (John Serembe), who is insanely funny — in some instances very subtly so with little aside glances and in other instances with huge slapstick shouts and gestures. When he brings out cookies for the guests, there are only three cookies, and when he serves tea for two he pours only one cup. He shorts everybody because, as it turns out, young Lord Ambrose is broke. He can’t afford more cookies.

There has been a tentative plan of marriage between Ambrose and Delilah, and a sweetly humorous attempt at romance between Frank and Darah. But there is clearly a friends-with-benefits relationship between Ambrose and Frank, and Delilah wants more than a platonic relationship with Francine.

 And there is talk about a strange play titled The King in Yellow, which no one seems particularly interested in except for Darah who seems almost psychotically obsessed with wanting to get her hand on it.

This genteel, romantic comedy of manners ends with the Act One curtain.

Paige Doyle as Delilah

Act Two takes place in a hellish world, albeit in the same physical space and time. The actions of the characters seem disjointed and unexplainable by anything other than the fact that at least some of them have read part of the dreaded play. Something horrible has happened to Giles the manservant, who still accomplishes his duties but under very strange circumstances. And a strange, nervous nun (Kate Ayers) shows up with dire warnings and odd and threatening words and gestures that are anything but nun-like.

The storyline is somewhat disjointed and may leave some audience members confused. At close to two-and-a-half hours including a 15-minute intermission, it needs some trimming and tweaking. That is a natural part of the life of a new play.  

The acting by every actor is superb, the language is beautiful, the set by Marko Bujeaud and costumes by Jamie Crawford-Kidd, the lighting design by Peter Brimms and video projections by Serembe are great. Big kudos to director pug Bujeaud. This locally written and produced world premiere play should go maybe not to major theaters but to similar intimate theater spaces all over the country.

Left to right: Victoria Austin as Darah and Ethan Bujeaud as Frank

Congratulations to everyone involved. Now would someone please explain to this reviewer what it’s really all about?

Recommend for ages 13 and up.

Photos courtesy of Theater Artists Olympia.

The King in Yellow

7:30 p.m. May 10, 11, 17. 18, 24 and 25 and 2 p.m. May 12, 29 and 26

OlyTheater, Capital Mall, 625 Black Lake Blvd., Olympia



Poster art by pug Bujeaud
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