KING JOHN (Revolution Shakespeare): 2016 Fringe review 88

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You won’t get many opportunities to see KING JOHN; you’re unlikely to see one as well-rendered as Revolution Shakespeare’s. In other hands, this overtly lyrical play would be lost in language, confused by the convoluted intrigues. But director Dan Kern and his cast pay attention not just to the poetry, but to the political battles Shakespeare depicts—fitting for this election season. The conflict at the heart of the play between the English king (Kevin Bergen) and King Philip of France (Jared Michael Delaney) takes place not just in well-choreographed battle scenes (Sean Bradley), but in Caesaresque dueling speeches appealing to the hearts of the citizenry. At one point, the campaigning parties decide to join forces against the people. Yep.

Shakespeare edified Richard III’s image as a villain, but he can’t be blamed for the King John of Disney’s Robin Hood. Written when Elizabeth I’s childlessness elevated all discussion of succession to the throne, this story of a king’s downfall lacks a compelling hero or villain in a complicated cast of heirs and pretenders. Though it’s not one of Shakespeare’s great plays, KING JOHN contains much of what makes Shakespeare great. There is beautiful, incisive verse (Adrienne Hertler stands out as the grieving Lady Constance: “Grief fills the room up of my absent child,/ Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,/ Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words”; “You are as fond of grief as of your child”, says Phillip.) Several scenes show penetrating psychological insight (e.g., with Matt Lorenz as Hubert, a nobleman ordered to kill his friend Arthur [Merci Lyons-Cox]). Best of all is Philip the Bastard (played with larger-than-life charm by Carlo Campbell) a Falstaffian character whose humor and personality transcend the political history.

Thanks to Rev Shakes for this accessible glimpse at a new (for me) Shakespeare piece. FREE. [Hawthorne Park, 12th and Catherine streets] September 21-October 1, 2016fringearts.com/king-john; revolutionshakespeare.org.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.