'King John' explores questions of power

Published: Saturday, July 20 2013 4:35 p.m. MDT

Michael A. Harding, left, stars as the Duke of Austria, Jeb Burris as Lewis, Melisa Pereyra as Blanche, Melinda Pfundstein as Constance, and Fredric Stone as Philip, king of France, in the Utah Shakespeare Festivals 2013 production of "King John."

Bob Walsh, Utah Shakespeare Festival

"KING JOHN," Utah Shakespeare Festival, through Aug. 30, 800-752-9849 or www.bard.org

CEDAR CITY — It's a mighty goal, but one the Utah Shakespeare Festival is already tackling: Complete-the-canon project — producing all of the Bard's 38 plays before 2023. Included in that is the history cycle — producing all 10 of Shakespeare's history plays in chronological order. If you plan to follow along, the history cycle should offer cohesiveness to this series of works.

They begin with "King John," the earliest historical monarch Shakespeare wrote about.

At the time of the play, the rule to give-the-crown-to-the-firstborn was not set in stone as of yet. This caused problems if a successor was not clearly named. Such was the case after the death of King Richard I. Many thought he favored Arthur, but others thought he might want his brother, John. "King John" focuses on this power struggle.

Leading the charge as the power-hungry John is actor Corey Jones. Jones is a menacing presence on stage, and his assurance coupled with his uneasiness and doubt makes for a powerful portrayal.

He goes head to head, often, with Constance, mother of Arthur. Arthur was the rightful heir to the throne, according to some. King John takes him prisoner and encourages the pliable Hubert (played nicely by Roderick Peeples) to kill him.

This is where the USF production really takes off. The tension that builds during this discussion, leading to the point where Arthur fears for his own life, is wonderfully portrayed, and director Robynn Rodriguez's staging is very strong.

Melinda Pfundstein does a terrific job as Arthur's mother — intense and passionate. Steve Wojtas as Philip the Bastard is also a standout. His dimples are either a perfect match for the devilish side of Philip or a crafty disguise.

"King John" is a very solid production and a very interesting look at who's got the power and why.

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