When I first read the scene in Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John in which the prince tries to save himself by crawling out a tower window to disastrous results, I had to start over from the beginning with a new eye for the material. The English King who is refused entry by the French Soldier. The hastily arranged marriage as part of a desperate land grab. The unexpected appearance of the Inquisition. The comparisons were unmistakably similar to the eminently quotable and culturally iconic masterpiece, Ben Hur.
After a few years of planning, wrangling, and cajoling, I was fortunate enough for the Rude Mechanicals to take a chance with an amateur director to take on a production of such magnitude. We opened in 2005, which was also when the original creators came out with the wildly popular musical, Chariot-a-lot. This was entirely coincidental, and possibly the only true sentence in this whole piece.
Years later I realized so many people had not seen King John I started working on a reprisal. It was explained that maybe the word I was looking for was “revival”, but it would only be ironic if I did not know what I was talking about. Someone has to pay for these things, and I figured – Why not the audience?
Thus, after ten years, The Rude Mechanicals will be presenting The Life of King John. If Richard III was resolute, Henry VI pious, Henry V resolute and pious, well, no other English kings have ever been named John. This is definitely one of Shakespeare’s top forty plays – an exercise in continuous frustration where everyone is talking, no one is listening, and yet only one person can be king.
Experience, being the thing you get instead of the thing you wanted, has provided many opportunities for improvements. Instead of cutting one of the three earls to save on having to (not) pay actors, why not merge them all into a three headed giant? Why reference characters’ off-stage death when you can drag them out on an ever growing cart? If you wish to avoid including an unrewarding role of Messenger, wouldn’t a letter tied to an arrow serve the same purpose?
While this may seem a cheap knock-off or a quote-along, we instead treat this as a parody. I assure you, much beatings of the actors occurred to keep this so. With the exception of three lines, maybe five, the words you will be hearing were written by Shakespeare, however absurd they may sound. You WILL receive full academic credit for having seen King John. We promise.
So gird yourself for dramatic naval battles and thrilling chariot races of the finest Roman tradition in The Rude Mechanicals 2015 production of The Life of King John. Makes Ben Hur look like an epic!
July 9 — Aug 2, 2015
The Life of King John at Atlas Performing Arts Center
starting July 9
Capital Fringe 2015
1358-60 Florida Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
and other locations
Fringe details and Tickets
Alan Duda is a founding member of The Rude Mechanicals, D.C.’s Alternative Shakespeare Company since 1998. www.rudemechanicals.com