Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

King John
Folger Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Anastasia

Howard W. Overshown and Brian Dykstra
Photo by Teresa Wood
William Shakespeare's play King John is not performed as often as many of his other history plays, but the production now at the Folger Theatre in Washington make a good case for its continued interest. The play doesn't include the most famous part of John's reign, his signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, focusing instead on the ways in which personal battles influence history.

While John reigned from 1199 to 1216, director Aaron Posner has moved the setting to the Edwardian era of the early 20th century, with Sarah Cubbage's costume design centered on men in frock coats and vests and women in long gowns with high ruffled collars. The 12 actors, most of whom play multiple roles, lay out the themes of "politics and family and power" in contemporary language before the play begins.

John (Brian Dykstra) became king following the death of his brother Richard the Lionheart and rules with the assistance of his mother, the august Eleanor of Aquitaine (Kate Goehring). However, King Philip of France (Howard W. Overshown) supports the claim to the throne of Arthur (Megan Graves), the teenage son of another of John's late brothers. Plots, politically motivated marriages, and interference from the pope all add to John's concerns - shown by the way he keeps tripping as he approaches the throne.

The women are the ones to watch in this production, most notably Kate Eastwood Norris in the male role of Philip Faulconbridge, bastard son of Richard the Lionheart. Norris swaggers and rages, decrying the political machinations around her and how rulers will sell out their people for expediency; clearly, this character should be king were it not for the matter of his birth. Goehring is indomitable as Eleanor, a queen for many decades and prepared to go to battle at age 80; Holly Twyford is both determined and heartbreaking as Constance, Arthur's aggrieved mother; and Graves has some breathtaking moments as young Arthur. Maboud Ebrahimzadeh offers strong support in two roles and Elan Zafir is an insinuating presence as John's right-hand man.

Andrew Cohen has created a rustic scenic design centered on John's wooden throne, which also represents a castle tower in one scene, and a suspended wooden circle that suggests a crown. Max Doolittle's lighting design balances the plain set with banks of lights whose blasts into the audience conjure up the clashes of battle.

Folger Theatre
King John
October 23rd - December 2nd, 2018
By William Shakespeare
Louis the Dauphin, son of King Philip of France: Akeem Davis
John, King of England: Brian Dykstra
Austria, Duke and loyal supporter of France/Salisbury, a noble English lord: Maboud Ebrahimzadeh
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine/Lady Faulconbridge/Bigot, a noble English lord: Kate Goehring
Arthur, son of Constance and Geoffrey II/Prince Henry, son to King John: Megan Graves
Blanche of Spain, niece to King John: Alina Collins Maldonado
Philip Faulconbridge, the bastard son of Lady Faulconbridge by Richard the Lionheart: Kate Eastwood Norris
Chatillion, French emissary/Cardinal Pandulph, Papal Legate: Sasha Olenick
Philip, King of France/Melun, a noble French lord/Peter of Pomfret, a prophet: Howard W. Overshown
Robert Faulconbridge/Citizen/English Messenger: Brian Reisman
Constance, mother of Arthur/Pembroke, a noble English lord: Holly Twyford
Hubert, personal attendant to King John: Elan Zafir
Directed by Aaron Posner
Folger Shakespeare Library, Elizabethan Theatre
201 E. Capitol St., SE
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-544-7077 or