20 Questions with The Cast of WSC Avant Bard’s ‘King John’: Part 1: Kim Curtis (Essex) by Christopher Henley

Kim Curtis.
Kim Curtis.

Kim Curtis is, other than me, the King John actor with the longest history with WSC Avant Bard. In King John, he plays the murderous monk Essex. His first show with us was Edward II at Church Street in 1993. He followed us to Gunston for A Midsummer Night’s Dream; to Clark Street for several shows (including Caligula, Camille, and Lulu); to Artisphere (Richard III; The Gnädiges Fräulein); and now to Theatre on the Run. In fact, he’s a bit like a character in some John Guare play, who keeps tracking down his parents, despite their best efforts to lose him. His career has been long, notorious, and very, very long. He denies the rumor that Dames at Sea was based on his early experiences, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Kim and I spoke over drinks between shows yesterday. He was in an uncharacteristically contemplative, serious, one might even say pompous mood, despite spending most of the time under the table and despite frequent interruptions as he broke into a rendition of “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story.

From Left to right: Kim Curtis, Anne Nottage, and  Connor J. Hogan. Photo by Christopher Maddaloni.
From Left to right: Kim Curtis, Anne Nottage, and Connor J. Hogan. Photo by Christopher Maddaloni.

Chris: 1. If you wanted to convince a complete stranger to come see King John, what would you say?

Kim: It is the chance to see a play that is rarely performed and it has some themes that Shakespeare doesn’t deal with so frequently. For instance, mother-son relationships; I find the psychology between the mothers and sons fascinating.

2. Before working on this production, what did you know about the play?

I didn’t know very much except that there was a child, the nephew of King John, who is killed because of adult politics. A little as in Romeo & Juliet, innocence is confronted with experience and the adult world.

3. Having now worked on this production, what has surprised you about the play?

How detailed all the characters are; even Essex, though small, is in fact quite nuanced.

4. What has surprised you about this production of King John in particular?

The setting in which the director has placed the play is unique.

5. What has been your most embarrassing moment working on King John?

Forgetting to close the doors; and misplacing my cane so that I appeared at the beginning of the first act with the cane and the rest of the first act without it.

6. What’s a fun fact about playing Essex?

He has a sly sense of humor not apparent on the first look.

7. In what ways are you like Essex?

Essex is an observer and he takes it all in; I’m a little like that.

8. In what ways are you different from Essex?

I’m not a political animal, I’m rather apolitical, and wouldn’t be caught up in the intrigues of power.

9. Why is your character the most important in King John?

The play wouldn’t exist without him because he poisons the King, he is the Deus Ex Machina.

[I would point out that, without Kim’s character, the play would still exist; it just wouldn’t end. -CH]

10. What is your favorite line to say?

“As true as I believe you think them false that give you cause to prove my sane true.”

Kim Curtis and Sun King Davis. Photo by Christopher Maddaloni.
Kim Curtis and Sun King Davis. Photo by Christopher Maddaloni.

11. What have you learned about yourself as an actor from working on King John?

It’s harder to do a small part than a big one, because you have to sustain focus more.

12. What is your favorite scene to watch (on stage or off)?
The marriage scene. [Act Two, Scene One. -CH]

13. If you could play one other character in King John, who would it be and why?
Pandulph; I’d like to have the opportunity of exploring him, what’s behind him, in him. I’m mystified by professionals in the church.

14. What has King John got to say for audiences today?

Quite a lot; it explores the politics of power, which is always a hot topic.

15. What audience reaction has surprised you?

The laughter in the audience’s reaction to the Bastard.

16. What makes WSC Avant Bard’s audiences different from others you’ve performed for?

They are open-minded, willing to go on a journey, willing to take a chance; they like to. That’s why they come to WSC Avant Bard.

17. Who is Shakespeare to you?

He’s a test for the actor to find the humanity in the classicism – if you don’t find that, it’s dull, verbose, empty words, and gestures.

18. Why should anyone care about classical theater?

It’s more timeless than contemporary theatre. It gets right to the guts.

19. How does WSC Avant Bard stay “avant garde?”

By renewing itself constantly, by not resting on its laurels. For instance, with The Gnädiges Fräulein, we took a Tennessee Williams play that was consigned to the dustbin and made it alive and funny. It’s one if the best things we’ve done.

20. What are you looking forward to in the upcoming WSC Avant Bard season?

Orlando. I’m a big fan of Virginia Woolf.


King John plays through November 24, 2013 at WSC Avant Bard – at Theatre on the Run – 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, email the box office wsc.tix@gmail.com, or call them (703) 418-4808, or purchase them online.


Christopher Henley. Photo courtesy of WSC Avant Bard.
Christopher Henley. Photo courtesy of WSC Avant Bard.

Christopher Henley began acting (1979) and directing (1980) around DC with Source Theatre Company. He was a founding Ensemble Member at WSC Avant Bard (formerly Washington Shakespeare Company); was its Artistic Director for more than 16 years; and continues as its Artistic Director Emeritus and as a member of the Acting Company. Other theatres at which he has worked include (in addition to several companies no longer functioning) SCENA Theatre (founding company member), Longacre Lea Productions, Ambassador Theatre, and The Folger.

Review of ‘King John’ at WSC Avant Bard by Catherine Artois on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Read other reviews of King John. 


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