Theatre Mirror Reviews - "King John"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


by William Shakespeare
directed by Tina Packer

Blanche of Spain, niece to King John … Ashley Bryant
Prince Henry, son of King John … Meg Wieder
King John … Allyn Burrows
Queen Eleanor, John’s mother … Annette Miller
Earl of Salisbury … Dave Demke
Earl of Pembroke …Jonathan Croy
Chatillion of France …Stephen James Anderson
Philip Faulconbridge, later Sir Richard Plantagenet, or the Bastard … Peter Macon
Robert Faulconbridge … Steve Boss
Lady Faulconbridge … Diane Prusha
King Philip of France … Walton Wilson
Lewis, the Dauphin … Mark Saturno
Limoges, Duke of Austria … Robert Biggs
Arthur, son of Constance of Geoffrey, deceased elder brother of John … Susannah Millonzi
Constance, Geoffrey’s widow, Arthur’s mother … Barbara Sims
First Citizen of Angiers … Diane Prusha
Second Citizen … Steve Boss
Third Citizen … Meg Wieder
Fourth Citizen … Bill Barclay
French Herald … Alejandro Simoes
James, the English Herald, later servant to the Bastard … Benjamin Edwin-John Green
Count Melun of France … Bill Barclay
Hubert de Burgh, citizen of Angiers, later in service of King John … Kenajuan Bentley
First Executioner … Stephen James Anderson
Second Executioner … Steve Boss
Lord Bigot … Stephen James Anderson
Messenger … Bill Barclay
Peter Pomfret, a prophet … Diane Prusha
Cardinal Randolph … Mel Cobb

KING JOHN is one of Shakespeare’s early Histories, being born in between RICHARD III and RICHARD II --- since it is a History, its plot boils down to who deserves to wear England’s crown: should it be John, who has claimed the throne upon the death of his brother King Geoffrey, or young Arthur, Geoffrey’s son and the heir apparent? The crafty Queen Eleanor and the noble Lady Constance stand by their sons, King Philip of France waffles between war and alliance with England, the Church puts in its oar, the imprisoned Arthur falls to his death and John gets his in the end, poisoned by an offstage monk. As written, John is but a pale spider at best, overshadowed by the jovial Philip the Bastard who wins our affection for as long as Shakespeare dotes on him; however, KING JOHN hints of unfolding genius in its celebrated set-pieces: Constance’s operatic grief when Arthur is torn from her (III, iv) and the moving Prison Scene where the boy pleads with Hubert to spare his life (IV, i). RICHARD II gradually won its place in the sun; KING JOHN has not and may flourish best in repertory as it is currently doing at Shakespeare & Company --- be it sandwiched in between its box office brethren or taking a chance on its own, KING JOHN deserves to be seen at least once, not only as a herald for the Bard’s future kings but as the study of a playwright en route to greatness.

Tina Packer sets her production in the proper period (the 13th century), allowing the audience to concentrate on this little-seen History rather than on an interpretation of it, and she has done her damnedest to make KING JOHN as accessible and entertaining as possible: the English and French courts are clad in respective reds and blues for easy identification and Ms. Packer inserts lively comedy here and there though sometimes when it is least expected (i.e. the half-naked John launching into a Charleston soon after his self-flagellation). The pivotal Arthur is played by Susannah Millonzi who alternates between sniveling at Constance’s side and overly fondling Hubert in his cell, reducing the Prison Scene to a jailbait love story, but Barbara Sims contributes a stirring, no-nonsense Constance, walking an admirable line between the heartfelt and the tour-de-force. Peter Macon’s Bastard swells out his scenes with such infectious animal magnetism that the production shrinks considerably whenever he leaves the stage whereas Allyn Burrows stitches John together with twinkles, coyness and falsetto inflections which earn him giggles from the audience but don’t add up to a characterization --- he seems to be improvising as he goes along. Mark Saturno plays the Dauphin with his mouth open, throughout; in my mind-theatre I see Mr. Burrows’ king pausing before Mr. Saturno’s prince, placing a lofty forefinger under latter’s chin, closing up the hole, and moving on. Such action would not shed any light on either character but it would certainly add to the over-all merriment.

"King John" (21 July - 3 September)
Spring Lawn Theatre, LENOX, MA
1 (413) 637-3353

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide