Scandals, sibling rivalry, adultery and divorces represented daily living for England’s royal Plantagenet family, which held the dynastic reigns of power from approximately 1120 to 1490. The Plantagenets provided enough drama for two playwrights: William Shakespeare, who wrote The Life and Death of King John, and James Goldman who wrote The Lion in Winter. Under the marketing banner “One Family, Two Playwrights”, 4615 Theatre Company is playing both shows in repertory with Jordan Friend as director. The focus of this review, King John, is a potpourri of pumping rock music, rollicking rumbles, dazzling light schemes, and potent performances.
Somewhat of a sequel to The Lion in Winter, the 400-years-older King John followed the trials and challenges of England’s King John (the one who signed the Magna Carta), which centered around the family feud between the English and French royal courts of his time. At King John’s level, family trouble was solved by intermarriages, wars and assassinations.
This play has been memorable over the years because of three roles: King John, Philip the Bastard and “fond of grief” Lady Constance. Seth Rosenke made King John a corporeal embodiment of the good, but flawed king. Jacqueline Chenault’s Constance was unforgettable, especially during her lamentation for her son, the would-be king, Arthur, Duke of Britain (the extraordinary Will Anderson). Constance’s brutal interchange between her and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (the stately Peg Nichols), was astonishing. The delightful joie de vivre of James Allen Kerr’s Bastard was entertaining throughout.
Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent, and somewhat of a henchman of King John’s, as played by Nick Torres, performed several different emotional beats, especially in his scenes with Anderson – superb in his own right. John Burghardt brought a good authority to his role as Cardinal Pandulph, who encouraged France’s King Philip (the marvelous Brendan McMahon) to make war with the anti-papal King John.
I loved watching Ned Read as dignified French Ambassador Chatillion in all his scenes. Anna DiGiovanni brought fire and a commanding presence to her role as the Earl of Salisbury. Charlie Cook’s Duke of Austria was foreboding. With his knowing facial expressions, Andrew White excelled as Prince Henry.
The lighting, a mix of reds and blues, and red flashes during fight scenes, was expertly built by Lighting Designer E-hui Woo. Though I loved Jeanette Christiensen’s tan military uniform – complete with medals – that she put Rosenke in, and Cook’s fur shawl, I felt the costuming lacked an overall theme; some of the costumes seemed incongruent as compared with one another. Friend, who is also 4615’s Artistic Director, choreographed many electrifying fight scenes; Chenault, who also served as Fight Captain, should be credited with the fight scenes as well.
Sound Designer Caroline McQuaig, along with Friend, punctuated various scenes with original rock music. Scenic Designer Nathaniel Sharer adorned Highwood Theater’s black box with chain-link fences, bags that looked like rocks, steps and a simple wood chair that served as a throne.
4615 Theatre Company’s King John is a moving and intriguing drama with indelible performances.
Running Time: Two hours, with a 10-minute intermission.
King John plays through August 5, 2017 at 4615 Theatre Company performing at The Highwood Theatre – 914 Silver Spring Avenue, Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 928-2738, or purchase them online.
Review: ‘The Lion in Winter‘ at 4615 Theatre Company Performing at the Highwood Theatre. By Susan Brall.