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King John ~ Folger Theatre At the Folger Shakespeare Library

Jordan Wright
November 1, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

The cast of Shakespeare’s political power play King John at Folger Theatre. Photo by Teresa Wood.

That this play is rarely produced, is an enigma.  Okay, it doesn’t have maidens frothily cavorting with lords a-leaping, but I couldn’t help thinking that if only I’d seen this as a teenager, much of my angst about studying Shakespeare might have been completely avoided.  In King John Shakespeare affords us some of the most expressive language he has ever written.  Wish I’d had some of his snappy putdowns in my mental back pocket.  “Oh, dunghill,” one of the characters calls another making for a far more effective retort than, “You meanie!”.  Amirite?

King John (Brian Dykstra) rules over England, with his mother Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Kate Goehring) by his side. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Apart from Richard II, King John is the only other Shakespeare play written entirely in verse.  And though the play’s prose is already lyrically outstanding, six-time Helen Hayes Award-winning Director, Aaron Posner tosses in some of Shakespeare’s greatest lines from a range of his plays, “Let slip the dogs of war”, “Once more into the breach” and “My kingdom for a horse”, for good measure.  And we’re off!

Philip, King of France (Howard W. Overshown) and John, King of England (Brian Dykstra) join hands in Shakespeare’s King John. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Set during King John’s turbulent reign from 1199 to 1216, war is ever present as the fight for ascension to the throne after Richard the Lionheart’s death, threatens John’s tenuous reign.  The French want control of the territories, and everyone has a different notion as to who should wear the crown including the Vatican, France, John’s mother Eleanor, Pandolf, Philip Faulconbridge, the Dauphin and Constance, mother to Arthur, John’s young nephew, and ferocious defender of her son’s right.  And then there’s the citizens of a French village, Angers (so apropos), who threaten to bar the gates if John becomes king.   So pretty much everyone except Philip who is hired on to protect him and Eleanor who stands to lose the family jewels should John be deposed.  As Shakespeare puts it, “I have never been so bethumped!”

Noble English Lords take up arms (left to right: Kate Goehring, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Holly Twyford) in Shakespeare’s King John.. Photo by Teresa Wood.

As King of England, John must fight off all pretenders and wannabes.  Watching him wrangle the forces around him and destroy others in his path, is downright exhilarating as the action swings from one war to the next.  One particularly effective scene is staged in total darkness.  Actors light up their own faces one by one as they recite their lines from opposite regions of the stage.

As expected there is superb acting all around but most impressively from Kate Eastwood Norris in the male role as Philip of Faulconbridge, the bastard son of Lady Faulconbridge by Richard the Lionhearted, and Holly Twyford as Constance, the overly protective mother of Arthur.  We are utterly besotted.  As Folger’s Artistic Director, Janet Alexander Griffin puts it, “We are thrilled to have the talents of Aaron Posner and this extraordinary cast bring a timely history play of political posturing and covetous transgressions to life… just blocks away from the Capitol building.”

Louis the Dauphin, son of the King of France (Akeem Davis) and John’s niece Blanche of Spain (Alina Collins Maldonado) arranged to be wed, a sign of peace between France and England. Photo by Teresa Wood.

With Akeem Davis as Louis the Dauphin; Brian Dykstra as John, King of England; Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Austria and Salisbury; Kate Goehring as Queen Eleanor, Lady Faulconbridge and Bigot; Megan Graves as Arthur and Prince Henry; Alina Collins Maldonado as Blanche of Spain; Sasha Olinick as Chatillon and Cardinal Pandulph; Howard W. Overshown as Philip King of France, Melun and Peter of Pomfret; Brian Reisman as Robert Faulconbridge and Elan Zafir as Hubert.

Scenic Design by Andrew Cohen, Costume Design by Sarah Cubbage, Lighting Design by Max Doolittle.

Through December 2nd at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

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