King John

-Folger Theatre

The picture isn’t fuzzy, the playbill is intentionally so!

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I realized that Folger Theatre was including this play in their season! Admittedly, not because I have a great love of the matter, but it has been several years since I’ve been able to “check-off” a new (to me) Shakespeare play. King John counts as number 30! Leaving me a mere 7 more plays to see before I’ve seen them all. Many thanks to the Folger Theatre for the assist in achieving this milestone!

But back to the play. I had some concerns that, being one of the Bard’s later plays and infrequently performed, it must be somehow inherently flawed, and it may be but I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. I haven’t nerded out (yet) and gone back and read the play to verify this but my impression is that liberties were taken and some editing employed but all were to the benefit of the performance. Director Aaron Posner’s decision to have the cast introduce their characters and motivations as the prologue was great, in addition to giving you helpful background for the narrative, its wit winked at the audience and set the tone for the rest of the show.

The plot centers around the succession to the throne after the death of Richard the Lionhearted. John, with the backing of his mother Elanor of Aquitaine, has been crowned but his legitimacy is being challenged by Constance, the wife of John’s deceased older brother. Constance feels her son Arthur should be King and she has the backing of the French King and Dauphin, and weirdly the Duke who killed Richard…and mayhem ensues. War, political maneuvering, personal grudges, arranged marriages, mad monks, double crosses and Papal meddling take their turn on stage. And it ends badly for nearly everyone. You know, a rollicking good time, Shakespeare style! The only thing left out was the Magna Carta, aren’t they supposed to sign that somewhere along the way; it’s actually the one thing I know about King John outside of what I’ve seen in Robin Hood movies.

One standout in this play is that, unlike many of Shakespeare’s history plays, there was no shortage of strong female characters. Some of them were even men. Wait, that’s not right. Some of the male characters were acted by strong female actors. That’s what I meant. The triumvirate of Holly Twyford (Constance), Kate Goehring (Queen Elanor) and Kate Eastwood Norris (Phillip Faulconbridge) are a force to be reckoned with. Actually, you know how sometimes Shakespeaer’s plays aren’t really about the title character (I’m looking at you Henrys IV), in many respects I feel the play was more about Phillip Faulconbridge, the bastard son of Richard Lionheart, or perhaps Ms. Norris’s performance was so wonderful that that’s what stood out to me the most. It really was a very compelling performance, I found myself rooting for her…him.

Before the show I had a chance to visit the exhibit Churchill’s Shakespeare and I can only assume that the costume design was an intentional nod to the exhibit. The costuming quite clearly evoked the spirit of Edwardian/WWI era clothing, with just enough of a twist to not be literal and evoke the witty tone of the show itself. I loved the use of the flowers as a means of distinguishing the different sides of the conflict, it was a nice visual cue as peoples allegiances merged, diverged and changed. Sometimes with Shakespeare you really do need a score card to keep up with all the machinations.

And to bookend this review, and just in case anyone if curious, the seven Shakespeare plays that I am missing are:

  • Two Noble Kinsmen
  • King Henry VI-Part I
  • King Henry VI-Part II
  • King Henry VI-Part III
  • Henry VIII
  • Timon of Athens
  • Troilus and Cressida

More than half the plays I need to see are all about Henrys, or so the titles would lead you to believe! If you hear of a production let me know!

Up Coming Shows – March

So March is looking a little sparse theater wise, at least for what I have scheduled. There are only three shows (technically four) on the horizon.

First up will be the Landless Theater Company’s production of ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’. (Thanks to Gwedriel and Emzly for the tip on this one.) If you’re not familiar withthe material Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a mini-movie Joss Whedon and his band of merry mischief makers created to pass the time during the writers strike of 2007. It was released as a web-only movie in three installments and is now available on iTunes for download. It’s the story of a wanna-be evil genius, Dr. Horrible (if you name your child Dr. Horrible don’t be surprised if he grows up to be an evil genius) and his ever failing attempts at being evil and destroying his arch nemesis Captain Hammer. Hammer=tool, get it? That’s the type of humor you’re dealing with. I’m curious to see how they’re adapting the story for the stage. Based on Landless Theaters production of ‘Evil Dead – The Musical’ I think they wont have any problems turning up the required ‘camp’ factor.

Landless Theater Company – Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Next up a community theater production of ‘The 25th Annual Puttnam County Spelling-Bee’or as I like to call it “the show with too long of a name’. Thanks to the involvement of a dear friend I get to see quite a few community theater productions for free (which frequently is the right price). The show is about quirky kids in a quirky community during a quirky spelling bee. I think it’ll be quirky. There is some audience participation during which selection I’ll be slid down low in my seat.

After that I’m really looking forward to the STC production of ‘An Ideal Husband’. I have an affinity for Oscar Wilde and his quick words and irony laced dialogue. I’ve never seen this performed on stage but I LOVED the 1999 movie version of is starring Rupert Everet and Jeremy Northam. I am being geeky enough that I’m currently reading the play to see if/how the diverge from the original text.

STC – An Ideal Husband

I’ll be wrapping up March (or beginning April) with the Synetic Theater’s production of ‘King Lear’. I think this will be the fourth King Lear I’ve seen in the last two years. Each production has been dramatically different from the other, one was very traditional, one was modernized and one was a very spare production. This production will be unique in that no dialogue will be spoken. Synetic Theater specializes in wordless production, using instead, dance, music and pantomime to follow the story. It does help to know the plot but it’s not necessary. They do a pretty good job of telling the story and entertaining you. There is the added bonus of having a costume designer who is apparently on a strict budget, resulting in very fit dancers dressed in scant and oft form fitting  amounts of fabric.

King Lear at the Synetic Theater


So Sunday nights show, Cymbeline, was part of my series subscription with the Shakespeare Theater Company. One of Shakespeare’s later plays I don’t believe it’s often performed, now I know why. Since it was being directed by  Rebecca Bayla Taichman, I had moderately high hopes for this performance as she had previously done a wonderful job with last years Taming of the Shrew (which is not one of my favorite of plays). Unfortunately my hopes were confounded. How much was the material and how much was the performances is hard to discern.

The play itself was almost written like Shakespeare was going through is “tragedy with a happy ending” check list. 

  1. Irrational father/King (check) 
  2. Star crossed lovers (check)
  3. Deviant evil doers (check) 
  4. Cross dressing (check)  Read more