The King and I

We got season passes to SHN in order to get Hamilton tickets, and as a result, we ended up at The King & I last night. It was interesting.

The performances were good, and it was an interestingly put together thing, but the story was never engaging, and while I understood what was going on, I really didn’t get why it was supposed to matter to me. I think one thing might be that with this revival of the show, they changed certain things to make it less… old. But I think that maybe an inadvertent change of making it less “exotic” and “Oriental” meant that now the characters should be less “inscrutable”, but while their motivations work on the surface, they never seem to have any consistent driving force.

One of the turning points of the show, the King cries “DISHONOR” as he’s about to do this thing, and you’re supposed to (I think?) feel this tension between his desires to move Siam into more Western-friendly “modernity”, but he’s pulled to feeling this sense of honor when someone wrongs him, and that honor is so valuable that he’s willing to potentially destroy all the progress he’s made to this point.

But it’s meaningless.

In the context of the show, there’s no explanation of why honor matters. Or what it is about that that should pull him in multiple directions. Instead, it looks like he’s just … lost it, and is the barbarian that the West is supposedly accusing him of being. I can kind of piece together what I should be understanding out of the scene, but it doesn’t actually click, and it doesn’t actually feel meaningful.

And I feel like a lot of the show suffers from the same problem.

That moment of tension (the one that didn’t work) is basically about Westernizing in order to potentially save Siam from colonization. They put on an elaborate dinner for British envoy to convince the West that the King isn’t a “barbarian”, but the whole time there’s this other plot that one of his (many) wives is going to run away with her lover, and they set up this conflict where either he’s going to need to deal with her in a “modern” way or a “traditional” one.

But the dinner goes off (mostly) without a hitch, and *after*, there’s the revelation of the wife’s infidelity, at which point the King goes berserk. But the problem is that the dinner went fine. The stakes that matter (the future of Siam) are off the table. Maybe the idea is that the relationship between Anna and the King is as important, but that doesn’t work at all. So you have this tension (will the dinner work?), you resolve it (yes), and then introduce the conflict? It’s really, really weird.

But again – the whole show felt that way. Things played for comedic value (etc., etc.) that happen not just too often, but in ways that undercut emotionally charged scenes. The King is essentially trying to fight for the future of his country, but he’s often played for laughs (the laughs work, but it makes the character a joke).

I dunno. It’s odd – Ei-Nyung & I were talking on the way home about how season tickets were like getting a prix fixe meal at a restaurant – you don’t get necessarily what you want, but you’re forced to try some new stuff. And in that way, this was super enjoyable. I didn’t necessarily like the show, but I liked experience of it all, and it’s not something I’d necessarily have chosen independently.

 

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