Theater – King John

Photo by Teresa Wood for Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 2018

Ok, I’m going to be honest with you straight up here.  I fell asleep during this show.

That’s not a way of saying this play is boring, or that you shouldn’t go, or that you wouldn’t enjoy it.  It’s a way of saying I’ve been very VERY tired the last week or so and all of that was baby related.  I even bought a chocolate at the intermission (thinking that a little caffeine/sugar would perk me up, but that a soda would keep me awake too late), but I fell asleep twice more in the second act.

I am SO disappointed in myself.  Especially since this was such an interesting and enjoyable show!  So interesting and enjoyable that H, who came with us, was discussing the characters and their motivations in the car on the way home.  I mean – how often does that happen with teens and Shakespearean histories?  There’s quite a lot of complicated backstory to this particular history, and it’s why the cast actually did an introduction at the beginning of the play – each introducing their characters, and how they fit into the drama that is about to unfold.

Photo by Teresa Wood for Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 2018

And maybe you’ve heard about King John, just not in this context.  This is the “bad king” – the one who sat on the throne during the time of Robin Hood.  The one who signed the Magna Carta.  The younger brother of Richard the Lionheart.  You’ve definitely heard of him, but for whatever reason, I can’t figure out why this show isn’t produced more.  Sure – there’s a lot of lengthy monologues, but some of them are pretty terrific.  In fact, much of the lengthy speeches given by Constance are among the best and most heart-rending in the show.  It doesn’t hurt that Constance is played by the inimitable Holly Twyford who I’ve seen many times and loved.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the show spends so much of it’s time worried about heirs and succession of the throne in a way that’s not the most graceful?  Maybe it’s just the fact that apparently it’s a slog to read?  Various reviews and summaries of the show that I’ve read have mentioned this specific fact, and while I agree that it’s definitely dense, when performed, it doesn’t betray that fact on stage.

Photo by Teresa Wood for Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 2018

It helps that while the stage is small and more Elizabethan in style, that the actors make full use of the space available in the theater.  Of course, this is true for more than just this production at Folger, but that’s the beauty of being given limited space – it forces creativity on the part of the director and actors.  In fact, the director and production design were very creative in their set as well, despite the fact that it is rather spare – just a large throne with a tilted crown hanging overhead.  This chair serves as throne, as prison, as wall on which to spike a head.

We obviously attended near the end of the run (since it finishes this coming Sunday, December 2), but if you happen to have time this weekend, it’s a highly recommended outing.

Details: King John by William Shakespeare, at Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.  Through December 2.

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