Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Anastasia
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.