King George, King William

ONE amusing way to enjoy the play "The Madness of George III," playing at the Mechanic through Oct. 31, is to close your eyes and imagine that you're in the State House in Annapolis.

In the case of George III, the raving is attributed to a metabolic disorder, porphyria. In the instance of the idiosyncratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the ranting is the result of Dutch-uncle distemper.


Consider this line from the play: "It's vexing when people in Parliament disagree with me." Remember the early years of the Schaefer administration, when the governor and the General Assembly rarely had civil words for each other?

And hear this phrase from the show about a "catalog of regal non-conformities" -- from wearing googly-eyed dime-store glasses during a State of the State address to cussing out the Eastern Shore in vivid scatological language.


Mr. Schaefer, ever the non-conformist, once crawled under a table in the State Office cafeteria to check for dirt. That's right, dirt. And lately he's collecting quarters to buy a new hairpiece for ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson. Remember, too, that Mr. Schaefer had refused to live in the Governor's Mansion but nonetheless installed his long-time companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, as kind of an in-house curator and official hostess.

There is, too, this observation in the play: "It's hard to be languid when the throne of England is dangling." Recall the "do-it-now" ,, mayor and practitioner of pothole politics as anything but languid during his campaign for governor and later in his efforts to jump-start the General Assembly as well as to leave his imprint on the state?

Now hear this from the mouth of George III: "I'm the king. I'm not told. I tell." Mr. Schaefer is nothing if not, in his own view, the paterfamilias of all of Maryland, knowing what's best for us and constantly telling us so.

And this: "I'm the king; I say what I like." Just last week, in a speech to the Maryland Chamber of Commerce in Ocean City, Mr. Schaefer declared that there are no decent candidates, no real leaders, in the contest to succeed him as governor. Translation: He'd like to anoint his successor if he can find someone acceptable.

In the play, George III refuses to listen to talk of the colonies he lost -- "Maryland, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Massachusetts." And for a long while after the 1990 elections, Mr. Schaefer was in a blue funk over having lost 13 counties to an unknown Republican.

pTC "The Madness of George III" is an 18th-century framework for 1990s matters, proving once again that nothing ever really changes very much.

The dialogue addresses such timeless matters as "government at a halt" (gridlock), "too much government" (reinventing government), "jobs" (unemployment), "bad economy" (no growth), "votes" (72 in the House of Delegates and 24 in the Senate) and the quadrennial political phrase "four more years."

In the play there's a wickedly funny attack on the practice of


medicine through what resembles a royal HMO. So hear Doc Schaefer lecturing us on the evils of smoking, the debilitating effects of cancer and the need for health-care reform. (Once he publicly discussed having his prostate examined.)

Finally this from the mouth of George III: "Style never immortalized any man."

All of which, in his final year in office, brings up the point of how history will treat William Donald Schaefer, governor.

Will he be remembered for the municipal Tinker Toys such as the ballpark at Camden Yards and the petty-paced light rail line? Or will time treat him as the madcap governor who wrote ill-tempered letters to constituents and who rifled the Motor Vehicle Administration files to find the name of a woman who called him a name?

And what about the cartoonish Captain Keno and his warehouse full of unused machines and the largest tax increase package in Maryland history?

The armchair answer is probably a ration of both. Mr. Schaefer's a master builder, all right, and before he leaves office he wants to complete two more monuments -- a telecommunications superhighway and a resort and conference center at Rocky Gap State Park.


For good measure, he's throwing in a convention center in

Montgomery County.

But the reverse of the medal reveals the dark side of Mr. Schaefer: the governor who rants at reporters and belittles aides and cabinet officials in public, the governor who once pounded on a constituent's door on a Saturday morning to denounce him for writing a letter of disagreement.

There's also the contentious governor who calls talk shows to rail at the newspapers and the stubborn governor who threatened to lay off state troopers as well as to cut aid to the developmentally disabled unless he got his way with the budget.

As they say in "The Madness of George III," "good night, Mr. King."

Frank A. DeFilippo writes here on Maryland politics.