The Fringe volunteer I spoke to wasn’t kidding when she said Shakespeare’s King John: Abridged would be a full house. The performance began at 5:30 but anyone arriving to Bantha Tea Bar after 5:15 struggled to find a seat. It’s easy to see why The Brawling Bard Theater draws such a large crowd. King John: Abridged, written and directed by Alan Irvine, professional Pittsburgh storyteller, incorporates early modern English language without a hint of stuffiness, and incorporates a cast that clearly are passionate about performing Shakespeare.
The audience, squeezed into the back room at Bantha, sip tea alongside the cast. William Shakespeare, played by Irvine, and various actors, day-players, and others frequently gather there, since it is close in vicinity to The Curtain theater. Michael Mykita and Tonya Lynn wander in and find Will hard at work editing a King John script. Only about half-versed and with some notes, Mykita and Lynn offer to do a reading so Will can see how the play is developing. Lynn, infatuated with cannons and swords volunteers to play King John of England, and Mykita steps into the role of French ambassadors King Philip and Count Melun. As they begin the read through more actors are quickly recruited, and as the show progresses so does the zaniness that accompanies eight actors playing the roles of at least 19 different characters!
Alex Mykita is the first to join in. She hands her mug of tea to a fellow actor, insisting he does not allow anyone to drink it, so she can read for the part of Queen Elinor and then Humbert. Andy Cole, cast as Robert, then Lewis and the Mayor of Angiers, and finally Pembroke likes to poke fun at not having the biggest parts, but he has a prop bag and comes to the comedic rescue in several scenes. Dylan Mahaffey, proudly plays the part of The Bastard, son of Richard the Lionhearted. In one scene, Mahaffey animates Arthur, played by a prop, and Mykita as Humbert, discuss Arthur’s execution. The audience howls with laughter during the preposterous spectacle. Kelsey Walls, enthusiastically steps into the character of Constance, and Austria and then Salisbury. Walls is thrilled to to show off her acting ability in roles other than ‘henchman’ and she uses the moment to shine as a performer, quickly changing characters and props, dramatically exasperated but with the intensity of an actor seeking a big break. Samwise Riley, is the last to join in the ‘reading’. His inclusion possibly creates ‘the most characters in 1 scene’. He steps in to fill the parts of Cardinal Pandulf, Executioner, English messenger and Prince Henry.
Shakespeare’s King John: Abridged is a performance for anyone. The plays is a spontaneous moment in the theater world of 1596 and the cast of Brawling Bard Theater deliver a merry performance. Sometimes I worry the rhythm of iambic pentameter will lull my mind–not during this show. Although, King John does run long (about 90 minutes), it is lively and full of gags, and the time flies by. I was surprised when the performance ended and more than an hour had passed.
Irvine has written a script for those who love Shakespeare, anyone who wants to love Shakespeare but hasn’t found his work relatable or any person who isn’t sure they would enjoy Shakespeare and includes a cast of polished actors who make theater a genuinely entertaining experience.
Megan Grabowski works full time for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania but for fun she enjoys volunteering, as a trustee for the Crafton Public Library Board, the Girl Scouts and as a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round. Megan grew up attending community theater performances with her parents and relishes the escapism and adventure live productions provide. Now, a mother to 2 teenage daughters, Megan is thrilled to see her girls enjoying live shows, performing on stage and creating playlists of their favorite showtunes. To keep up on writing trends, news and cool cultural stuff, follow Megan on Facebook @mjgrabowskiwordsmith.
Categories: Archived Reviews