A Royal Mess

Knights and princes on local stages

The overpowering presence of a therapeutic world-view kept me from buying into the fairly compelling emotional story onstage. Another critical flaw is Darné, under whose direction every character seems plagued by the virus of emotional ketchup-bursting. The story will be going along smoothly, with witty banter here and natural-sounding dialogue there, but then something's said, and the character-any character-bursts into a tirade and a flood of tears. Unless we're dealing with a play about primal therapy, this is bad theater.

Obstructed by the twin faulty dramaturgical towers of therapy and fevered emotion, the acting suffers. Only Blankenship and G.G. Crawley's excellent Rosa seem completely genuine. It's a shame because somewhere in here, there is a play. The ending, in which Tony delivers a moving monologue on a bare stage, works especially well, and there's enough clever wordplay and insight in the writing to make it work under different conditions.

Maybe Blankenship, who runs the Ensemble Theatre, and writing partner Darné, who wrote the play 11 years ago, are too close to the material to offer an objective staging. It's a very difficult thing to hand your baby over to someone else. But that may be what's needed to turn this Princeinto something befitting its title.

Man of La Mancha at Huntington Beach Playhouse, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 375-0696. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through March 28. $11-$15; $5 student prices Thurs.;Irony of an Uncrowned Prince at the Ensemble Theatre, 844 E. Lincoln Ave., Ste. E, Orange, (949) 263-4170. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Through March 20. $15-$20.

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