Game of Thrones sword fighting and Housewives behaving badly can be enjoyed in the comfort of a park, cozied in a blanket with loved ones, munching on picnic fare. Shakespeare by the Sea practically brings King John to you.
With the death of Richard I, Nathaniel Weiss (Arthur), the young nephew of King John, is shocked and relieved he is not crowned king. Kristina Teves (Constance) stands in front of him hovering a hand over his chest, protecting her son from a greedy King John (Patrick Vest) and Queen Eleanor (Bridget Garwood). At every turn Weiss cries or cowers as he is just a child and mollycoddled by his mother. Teves is a strong Constance as she protects her son and fights for him. Teves and Bridget Garwood (Queen Eleanor) have a spiteful argument like two angry mothers who will go at any length for their sons. Neither will give in and have to be stopped by one of the men. Constance goes from protective to angry to disoriented with her son missing to despair in losing her son permanently; all compelling. Mark Rimer (King Philip) is a strong king, in his premiere with SBTS, as he leads his soldiers and breaks his unity with King John. Garret Replogle (Lewis, the Dauphin) is engaging in his speech. Replogle and Cylan Brown (Philip the Bastard) have a couple of exciting (but short) sword scenes with other characters. They do, however, practice before the show with their “ughs” and “aahs” and grunts. It is a “boys will be boys” moment where they get to pretend to be Dukes and Earls and sons of Kings as they are quick on their feet, running on and off the stage.
Our King John (Patrick Vest) is also the Fight Choreographer. Brown (Philip the Bastard) is witty but serious in his jokes about him and his brother coming from one mother and one father. He comes in and out of scenes with his thoughts and a few monologues, giving continuity to the play. An unpleasant character Pandulph, played by Don Schlossman, is a manipulative Pope as he rolls his eyes and seeks alliances at every side in a condescending tone.
The set, created by Aaron Jackson, is an impressive grey, faux brick stage that is pieced together and taken down for every performance with help from the actors. Interest is created by a relatively small stage, allowing the actors to enter in five or six different ways. There are the fronts steps, two side steps, back steps, the turret and below the turret that Arthur climbs out to his death. The real eucalyptus trees make for a great foreground as the night turns dark and the clouds sporadically cover the waxing moon as King John and Chris Aron (Hubert) speak of the five moons.
Costumes by Christa Armendariz are well thought out as there are almost no costume changes except for Constance in a regal red dress made of velvet to a white muslin nightgown that makes her look ghostly for his distraught behavior over her son’s death. The English nobles are in red and the French are in blue velvets and embroidered draping. Clever shimmery material is used for chain male. One of the outfits that stands out from the rest is Arthur’s grey layers. He wears shimmery grey material from head to toe for chain male with a grey embroidered coat, dark grey cape lined in lavender and black riding boots.
Director Stephanie Coltrin knows her history, answering questions about the history of the Kings at the preshow talk. She presents a production of King John that gives the audience a sense of history. Coltrin and Lisa Coffi, who is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director, and others in the production team chose King John for its production rarity. (All’s Well That Ends Well is also chosen for this seasons run since it’s one of the less popular plays in production.)
Lisa Coffi created Shakespeare by the Sea out of her thesis of one play in San Pedro Park that entertained three thousand in the course of nine performances. Now, SBTS is in its sixteenth season touring parks in Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange Counties, solely on the audience’s donations. She says if every audience member bought ten dollars’ worth of product SBTS would break even. Or, at the end of the show, the audience can put a tip in the box, talk to the actors and take a picture with them.
An audience member at All’s Well That End’s Well said they read the synopsis to King John and decided they couldn’t understand it with all the characters and decided to skip it. Don’t skip it. SBTS makes it understandable. In the program there is an easy-to-understand synopsis. There is also a Q&A at 6:15pm on Saturdays where children and adults ask interesting questions.
Shakespeare by the Sea’s King John is funny, engaging and action packed. This quick-paced production entertains the whole family. Walk away feeling entertained and philanthropic.