The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0177 Tuesday, 2 February 1999.
Date: Monday, 01 Feb 1999 19:38:16 -0500
Subject: King John in DC
Lately, there seems to be a rush on to perform Shakespeare's less
popular plays. For me, has worked out nicely; the past few years have
afforded opportunities to see Henry 8, Cymbeline and a couple of
Pericles. Riding that wave, Washington DC's Shakespeare Theater is
currently performing King John. They present a solid performance, but
cannot make up for the fact that it is a "weaker" play. That's not to
say that the play is without its interest, just that it seems noticeably
a work from a less developed playwright. Harsh criticism from a
part-time Shakespearean like myself, but I couldn't help but feel that
King John's character is merely an early draft of Richard II, or that
some of the action was diluted by peculiar plot choices. France and
England are almost at war, which suddenly becomes a wedding, which just
as suddenly becomes a war again instigated by Cardinal Pandulph, who
seems to exist for no better reason than to start a war when the plot
Aside form the choice of the play itself, all of the other choices
worked out nicely, The stage was an austere blocky set of aged red and
white. The costumes, confining contraptions of metal and leather,
suitable for solders, but particularly harsh on the female characters,
capturing entirely their involvement in the battles and schemes. Both
Blanche and Eleanor seemed to have strips of metal weaving through their
hair. Lastly, the opening scene is played through a scrim portrait of
Richard the lionhearted that is raised as if to observe the proceedings.
Philip Goodwin plays John as almost mad, vacillating through emotions.
Contrasting his psychosis, the young Arthur is absolutely pure and
innocent. Twelve year old Derek Kahn Thompson is a stunning almost
angelic presence that seems to float above the royal riff-raff. For
long time Shakespeare Theater goers, Floyd King, traditionally the clown
for innumerable productions, here makes a great king of France, torn
between his religion (and the directives of the pope) and the new peace
he has negotiated with England. The bastard was played by Edward Gero,
as comic relief, sort of a mad-cap country bumpkin. Thinking that he is
typically the foil for the troublesome king, I had expected something
nobler. Is the bastard usually played as a bumpkin? It also strikes me
as odd the when the bastard finally revenges himself on Limoges, the man
who killed his father, he strikes him from behind with a battle axe.
Not the sort of mano-a-mano confrontation that I had expected.
Lastly, for text freaks, it is my understanding that portions of the
anonymous play The Troublesome Reign of King John have been included. A
choice by the director to add clarity to some portions he felt were
cloudy. These scenes apparently include an impeachment scene (always
fun in this town).
During a post-play discussion, a question was asked about why King John
was not performed more often. The cast responded, that they didn't
know; but I think it was obvious. The cast and the production was well
done, and it is still worth seeing, especially if you might never get a
chance to see it again, but why it is a "lesser" play seems obvious.
PS: I was intrigued by the words exchanged between Blanche and the
Dauphin prior to their battlefield wedding and wondered how the
courtship dialog between political couples (e.g., Henry V and Kate)
contrast with courtship between "romantic" couples. Has such a
comparison been done?