Shakespeare’s King John is not frequently produced. It has many unfamiliar historical characters (John reigned during the early 13th century; history remembers him because he was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215). He was a ruthless schemer, more concerned with pomp and personal preservation than ruling justly, and Shakespeare’s play is shot through with murky themes of devious politics.
The popularity of Sir John Falstaff, the portly jokester in Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' plays, led to a sequel. 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' today would have been dubbed 'Falstaff II.' And like most sequels, the original idea wears thin. Falstaff is funny, but his coarse, self-aggrandizing behavior is one-dimensional. That's part of why Cincinnati Shakespeare's holiday show grows a bit wearisome.
Know Theatre of Cincinnati's staging of Tony Kushner's monumental '90s icon 'Angels in America' continues with 'Part II: Perestroika.' Let me simply say that if you miss this show you'll kick yourself. It's a showcase of excellent Cincinnati actors doing one of the most important plays of the past 25 years.
Given the acclaim behind 'Angels in America' and Tony Kushner's continuing reputation as one of our nation's great (if controversial) playwrights, you'd think an ambitious professional theater company in Cincinnati would have staged the work before 2010. But we've only had 'Angels' onstage at CCM and at Falcon Theatre in Newport. Finally, Know Theatre of Cincinnati opens 'Part I: Millennium Approaches' this weekend, while 'Part II: Perestroika' will be added to the run on April 23.
Director Matt Johnson has set the battle of the sexes in a "mythical Hollywood studio" of the 1930s. What often goes wrong with adaptations is that they're not fully applied, but Johnson's update works flawlessly and completely, adding layers of humor for theatergoers who might not routinely warm to a play by Shakespeare.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It depends on what your definition of 'well' is." Sure, 'All's Well That Ends Well' at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company ends up neatly with loose threads tidied away. But truest delights are the four strong women who, as in no other play by Shakespeare, dominate the action as played by Kelly Mengelkoch, Sherman Fracher, Amy Warner and Sara Clark.
This might be early, youthful Shakespeare, but it's still Shakespeare, which means it's about splendid language as much as farce. And here's the true marvel of this Cincinnati Shakepeare offering: For all its spaceships, flying nuns and gorillas (yes, there's a gorilla), the language smiles through, intact, respected and as sweet and thrilling as it should be.