The King and I: Charming Springtime Theater from the Ocean State Theatre Company

It is anyone’s guess how much of The King and I is based on a truthful or, at least, objective account. Anna Leonowens, the real life English governess, was accused of embellishing and sensationalizing her story when she first published it in 1869. Rodgers and Hammerstein, finding Margaret Landon’s 1944 book on the subject was little more than a series of vignettes, pulled their narrative straight from the 1946 Daryl F. Zanuck movie starring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne.
However, none of this should disturb audiences for the Ocean State Theatre’s production. It is fantastic springtime theater. Alison Mahoney and Christopher Swan bring a breezy touch to their roles as the title characters – one outside her culture, the other questioning his. They are helped in no small part by a disciplined supporting cast (with lots of children!), bright Victorian-style sets, and a jaunty musical score.
It’s 1860, and the Buddhist King of Siam, feeling his kingdom becoming out of touch with the times, wants his children and wives educated in the modern, “scientific” way of the West. Anna arrives, but refuses to be intimidated by the King’s demands on her. She keeps a distance with her employer, rarely moving within a 20-foot radius of him.
Interestingly, a combination of his persistent curiosity for Western culture and her increasing awareness of her freedom from Victorian English mores (“Oh my, I’m dancing in front of a man. That would never be allowed where I come from.”) bring them together for engaging discussions about their different cultures and points of view.
Though none of this probably ever took place – the reality suggested by earlier accounts is that the King caused messes everywhere he went and Anna spent much of her time cleaning them up – there is joy in watching these very believable characters discover for the first time that the walls they used to live behind are no longer there.
The King and I plays at Ocean State Theatre April 24 through May 19 at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick