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Culpeper Times • November 8-14, 2018

'King John' – The Cost of Playing the King CURTAIN CALLS

“The Life and Death of King John” is not considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays; nevertheless, it’s a puzzle to me. The primary puzzle is why Shakespeare ever wrote it. John was known to the ages as “the bad king” (Edward II hadn’t been born yet), but his flaws, more ordinary than tragic, stemmed from his being an unremarkable man with a remarkable lust for getting and keeping power, whether or not he was entitled to it. The endless tussles between him, the king of France, the Pope, his dead brother’s son, and that boy’s dragonmother are the stuff of the play. War, deception, and bloodshed ensue. Only the crown remains for the next round of contenders. Aaron Posner, directing his twentieth production at the Folger, mines the ornate action and curlicues of conflict with a speed that, at least in Act I, suggests the fear of losing the audience’s attention in a tsunami

Maggie Lawrence

of confusion. As is common in the Bard’s plays, then and now, multiple actors can appear in multiple roles. Everybody wants something and they want it now. To clarify, Posner has employed the overused drama school device of having the actors address the audience directly, explaining who they are and their purpose, and adding a few attempts at casual, modern humor. (Eleanor – “England’s first badass queen”) The messy – if not incestuous – joint histories of England and France are difficult no matter where the playwright turns. What saves this story of a king we don’t like surrounded by other people we don’t care about is the stellar cast of actors. Finding depths in emotion and meanings in words is their job, but it is even more important when the characters they represent are so uniformly unsympathetic. Sarah Cubbage’s costumes of Victorian-esque lines with layers of vests, capes and buttons neither enhance nor detract from the feeling of a play caught between tragedy and mundanity. Brian Dykstra’s well-focused King John alternates between fear, raging, buttering up his supporters,

COURTESY PHOTO The cast of Shakespeare’s political power play King John at

Folger Theatre.

and slouching on his throne. It is that oversized throne with an even more oversized crown hovering above it which centralizes Andrew Cohen’s scene design and mutely suggests that no one is entirely up to the task it represents. Lurking at his side is his alpha-

female mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, (Kate Goehring) who knows a thing or two about royal shenanigans. But she is well-matched by the perpetually outraged Constance, widow of Geoffrey and mother of the “real” heir to the ➤ See Curtain Calls, Page 25

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Culpeper Times - Nov. 8, 2018  

Veterans Day events scheduled | 'That's a wrap' | Spanberger shocks Brat | Community center shot down by voters

Culpeper Times - Nov. 8, 2018  

Veterans Day events scheduled | 'That's a wrap' | Spanberger shocks Brat | Community center shot down by voters