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The Life and Death of King John

a Historical Drama
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 5292

SHOWING : June 14, 2018 - July 01, 2018



We are pleased to present a ‘new’ play by William Shakespeare. "King John" is a story of a country questioning how its leaders are chosen. It is a story of a country at the end of a period of prosperity and strong leadership facing an uncertain future with an uncertain leader. It is a story of murder, betrayal, and religious intolerance at the highest levels of government. It is a story that questions the reason for and the price of war. In other words, it is a story for our time.

Director Jeff Watkins
Citizen, Pandulph Tony Brown
Arthur Joshua Goodridge
Hubert, Chatillion Andrew Houchins
Bastard of Faulkenbridge Sean Kelley
Dauphin Adam Daniel King
Lymoges, Peter of Pomfret, Melune Glenn Lorandeau
Salisbury Tamil Periasamy
Elinor, Pembroke Mary Ruth Ralston
Sheriff, King Philip Maurice Ralston
Constance, Bigot Amee Vyas
Robert Faulkenbridge, Prince Henry Jake West
King John Troy Willis
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The Lifeless King John
by playgoer
Sunday, June 24, 2018
As laid out in Shakespeare’s history play, the reign of King John was not particularly dramatic or tragic. He seems to have spent a great deal of time bickering with the French king over England’s continental possessions and bickering with the pope’s representative, and his death was by poisoning carried out by a nameless, unseen monk. Dramatic oomph is added by younger characters – Philip, the bastard son of John’s eldest brother, Richard the Lionheart; Arthur, the legitimate son of John’s older brother Geoffrey; and Lewis, the Dauphin of France.

Troy Willis plays King John, and his underpowered projection gives the quiet intensity of his performance a feeling of ponderousness. His performance (and makeup) as the dying king is splendid, but it doesn’t redeem what has gone before. When he shares the stage with Maurice Ralston, whose performance as the French king seems primarily a measured recitation of Shakespeare’s lines, the play seems dull and bloodless. Excitement is added from the start by Sean Kelley, as Philip the Bastard, whose strong presence and powerful voice breathe life into every moment he is onstage. Tamil Periasamy, as the Earl of Salisbury, comes across with equal power and vitality in his smaller role.

Joshua Goodridge plays the youthful Arthur with sweet sincerity, and the scene of his death by an accidental fall is deftly staged by director Jeff Watkins, with the aid of Greg Hanthorn Jr.’s impressive lighting design. Adam King, playing the Dauphin Lewis, is mostly silent when sharing scenes with his father, the French king, but comes into his own as King John’s reign is coming to an end, laying the ground for a possibly exciting, but unrealized sequel showing Lewis’ resistance to the English.

Other good performances come from Mary Ruth Ralston, as the aged Elinor of Aquitaine (King John’s mother); Jake West as the comically nebbishy Robert Faulconbridge and later as the sturdily handsome Crown Prince Henry; and J. Tony Brown in dual roles. A highlight of the show is a scene in which Mr. Brown and assistant stage manager Lilly Baxley stand on the balcony of the stage as citizens of a besieged city, trying to neutrally mediate between the French and English kings. Their choreographed, mirrored reactions bring sparkle to the scene.

Most performances aid nicely in the telling of the story. Najah Ali, though, isn’t up to the task of selling her roles, with a flat delivery and lack of nuance throughout. Amee Vyas does well enough as Constance, widow of Geoffrey and mother of Arthur, but the role calls for a transcendent performance to truly come to life. It’s a missed opportunity for a breathtaking turn as a tragic figure.

Sound is sometimes a bit distracting, as offstage noises intrude on the dialogue being spoken onstage, and Anné Carole Butler’s costumes don’t "wow," with some of King John’s costumes looking more like nightgowns than regal garb. A red-hot poker effect is accompanied by a strong, sneeze-inducing odor. Still, this is a decent production in technical terms.

"The Life and Death of King John" isn’t a very active play. For much of it, director Jeff Watkins has positioned the cast in stationary positions around the stage while one speaking character pivots and speaks downstage to the audience. It can seem very static and artificial. There’s only one battle scene, at the start of act two, and Drew Reeve’s fight choreography gives a blast of much-needed energy to the play. Palpable excitement is evident as the cast ably performs the necessary swordplay. When Philip the Bastard slays an Austrian Duke (Glenn Lorandeau) in the battle, prepare for a gruesomely comic bit that follows that solidifies Mr. Kelley’s position as a new actor to be reckoned with.

For anyone familiar with "The Lion in Winter," Shakespeare’s "King John" will seem both oddly unfamiliar in the world being portrayed and oddly familiar in the interplay between Queen Elinor and her somewhat weaselly son John. Viewing the play might be compared to attending an anticipated sequel and coming out disappointed in the way things turn out. The reign of King John was considered a failure in his own time, and although focusing on his resistance to the control of the pope may have had some resonance in the time period immediately after the Church of England broke from Rome, King John was not a hero in any sense. Giving him his own play may make him the central figure, but it doesn’t make him the most interesting or likeable character. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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