Atlas Performing Arts Center- Sprenger (tickets available here):
Sunday, July 12 at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 14 at 8:15 p.m. Sunday, July 19 at 8:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 at 6:15 p.m.
They say: Shakespeare and the Holy Grail. This seldom-performed play goes down much better when served in a Monty Python style. Yet you may still receive full credit for having seen King John – one of Shakespeare’s Top Forty. And no singing!
Sophia’s Take: Billing this show as one of Shakespeare’s Top Forty is a joke. A pretty good one. Shakespeare composed 38 plays and, today, The Life and Death of King John is infrequently produced and relatively unknown (as Shakespeare’s plays go). It’s probably fair to say that most Fringe-goers are better acquainted with the zany comedies Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian than they are with the Bard’s bleak dramatization of the reign of this medieval English king. The Rude Mechanicals’ blending of these inspirations relies on Shakespeare’s text, but the tone is as goofy as goofy gets.
As a zany comedy, the show works well. The entire cast is solid in the technique required to deliver Shakespearean text, so even though the staging and costumes are deliberately ridiculous, the plot is clear. That is, as much of the plot that is performed at all: At a quick 60 minutes, swathes of the original play have been cut. King John had lots of problems: problems with the King of France, problems with the Duke of Austria and big problems with his young nephew Arthur, who might have had a better claim to his throne. The Rudes race through these conflicts like American Pharoahs, but when this threatens to get confusing, Director Alan Duda comes out in the character of a Narrator and simply announces that they’re skipping some stuff. Fair enough. Onward.
What The Life of King John doesn’t offer is much in the way of a fresh interpretation. Sometimes, a little bending and blending of genres can yield rich results. Comedy can reveal truths in a serious script that might otherwise go un-mined, or remain underserved. If nothing else, comedy can reveal humanity’s fundamental hypocrisy. A scene in Life of Brian comes to mind, the one in which the citizens of Judea plot to overthrow their Roman conquerors, but instead end up acknowledging how many social and technological improvements have been introduced to their society. The one exception to this in The Life of King John is Evan Ockershausen’s portrayal of King John, whom he plays like an insecure teenager. His readings gave a color to those lines I had never heard before. By and large, though, there isn’t much to learn about King John by watching the Rudes filter it through the style of Monty Python.
That said, I doubt The Rude Mechanicals are going after interpretive depth when they announce in the program that they “Questionably Present” their show. The Life of King John is a fun experiment conducted for the sake of experimentation and fun. Holly Trout as Prince Arthur, Tim MacGroin as Lewis the Dauphin (amusingly bedecked in Tim the Enchanter garb) and Peter Eichman as the Duke of Austria stand out in a cast that, to a person, is generous with their energy and having a blast. And why not? After all, it is a play.
See it if: You’re into the idea of watching Shakespearean tomfoolery for it’s own sake.
Skip it if: Tim the Enchanter horns and Knights Who Say Ni have no business mixing it up with the Bard’s poetry.