“Fixing King John,” running July 18 – August 2 at Off the Wall Theater, by Kirk Lynn is a triumph in both parody and irony. This contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King John” capitalizes on vulgarity and juxtaposition in order to create a beautiful trashy train wreck that works in every respect. On top of the fantastic script, Steven Wilson’s directing and the acting of No Name Players highlights every nuance needed to carry this splendid and hilarious piece of writing into the realm of healthy endearment for Shakespeare.
Not that the script doesn’t show case that itself. Rich in alliteration and full of poetic lines, the dialogue truly feels like a Shakespeare piece written recently. With that, of course, comes plenty of perverse comedy and adult language. The swearing at points comes off as childish, but in a show revolving around conflicting images, the language works in “Fixing King John’s” favor. It’s surprisingly entertaining to watch twelfth century royalty throw out expletives. That is really the strength of the writing. For however kingly any character acts, they show their true colors by being twice as rash or childish. And it’s hilarious.
“Fixing King John” still has a two pronged approach at entertainment thanks to the wonderful direction and fantastic performances by all involved. While it makes the audience laugh and smile with its smart dialogue (even if it is slightly overly vulgar), “Fixing King John” also connects with the audience on an emotional level to deliver a powerful ending. Mike Mihm delivers a robust performance as King John, transforming from a rash angry king to one truly deserving the title of great. The script contains some monologues performed by Tressa Glover that deserve the adjective “Shakespearian.” Although it seems at first that she’s overacting, it turns more into a homage to the acting style of Elizabethan England. Even though that could get tedious and pretentious, Glover does it superbly and is balanced by more nuanced performances. One of which being Todd Betker’s Pembroke. Without having an abundance of lines, he delivers each word perfectly and plays up the sleaze ball element of this show. It would be wrong to call any of these performaces stand out, because not one actor fails at stealing the show. Gregory Lehane’s King Philip fuels much of the play’s drama and still does so comically. Ricardo Vila-Roger’s Bishop is so self-righteous it hurts. It’s a masochistic pain, however. The only qualm with the show is an odd accent The Bastard, the pseudo chorus, puts on. Still, it creates a sense of class division between royalty and a former peasant, so it isn’t objectively bad. Just slightly distracting. Well done by everyone involved.
When the show gets dark, it still doesn’t fail to stir up laughter. This is the work of Steven Wilson, the director. The show could easily have forgotten its roots and tried to leave the audience with a profound message by force feeding it like a poorly done indie movie, but by not exaggerating the importance of the story (and all historical inaccuracies present) the message becomes more easily swallowed. Along with fantastic blocking, Wilson crafts a meaningful, worth while production that never seems to be repeating scenes.
The canopy for King John’s madness is unique enough to be outlandish. The set requires a lot of imagination on the audience’s part to piece everything together, but the construction theme plays at the heart of the show and ultimately works towards a symbolic gesture. Yes, they use a ladder for a wall. Yes, they use scaffolding for a palace. But when the intelligence of every character is low budget at best, the backdrop doesn’t need to be grandiose to reflect their struggles.
During intermission, I heard one actor explaining how somebody tried to count the number of “F-words” said in the show. Everybody who attempted failed. With that, a comparison to Tarentino is apt. The show is bloody, the show is dirty, and the show is good. To the people at No Name Players, I have but three words: Five Fucking Stars.
Special thanks to No Name Players for two complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: July 19, 2014