King John is clearly not one of Shakespeare’s most famous or popular plays. At least at this time. I’ve been told that in the past it was more fashionable and in demand. Chances are this will be your first King John while you may have seen a multitude of Midsummers.
We’re all excited to have this opportunity to delve deeply into this remarkable play. We won’t dwell on its flaws. Not every play can be Hamlet or Twelfth Night, even if you are William Shakespeare.
King John has many wonderful gifts, including remarkable characters, brilliantly evocative language, moving scenes, and it speaks to the complicated realities of governance. Shakespeare’s acute and penetrating vision is fully realized in his early history play.
I believe the play is about Flawed Leaders and Leadership. It is about the complicated ways The Personal and The Political intersect. And it is focused on the Relentless Pursuit of Power—and the expense of that pursuit.
It is about human love and all‐too human frailty. And it is about the wonderfully complicated nature of family.
Lastly it is about something called Commodity. This is named in the play, and it is not an easy word to define. It means, I believe, Profit or Gain. It has come to stand for Greed. Commodity also represents those problematic choices and actions that we make to get what we most deeply desire. Tickling Commodity our unique hero, the Bastard, calls it, revealing it as ugly and common.
No doubt the play is about many, many other things, and that is what we’re currently discovering every day in rehearsals. One of the great gifts of directing here at Folger Theatre (where I am told this is my 20th production!) is the opportunity to examine these great plays in close collaboration with an amazing group of actors, designers, scholars, and the entire extended Folger community. Each day brings new discoveries.
In joining us, we invite you to delve into the fabulous and flawed riches and rewards which King John affords.
Photo of Brian Dykstra as King John (above right) by Teresa Wood. Directed by Aaron Posner, Scenic Design by Andrew Cohen, Costume Design by Sarah Cubbage, Lighting Design by Max Doolittle, Original Music and Sound Design by Lindsay Jones.