“If you like action-packed thrillers,” writes Lynnea Benson, Artistic Director of Frog and Peach Theatre, “you are going to love King John.” She calls the seldom-produced history play “Game of Thrones, Shakespeare style,” being filled with wars over crowns, gold and power; craven courtiers, bickering in-laws, a greedy, power-mad Cardinal; illegitimate relatives and two very ambitious Queen Mothers. She will direct the classic April 24 to May 18, 2014 featuring a cast of Frog and Peach stalwarts including Karen Lynn Gorney (“Saturday Night Fever,” “All My Children”) as the ruthlessly clever Queen Elinor.
The Crusades are over and King John is on England’s Throne-but for how long? The despot’s best friend is his mother, the wily, seductive, ruthless Queen Elinor. The brains behind the Crusades, she is well known for her lethal charm, both on and off the field of battle (she is said to have famously battled the Infidels wearing little more than a negligee and a smile). John is her youngest son, and she is determined he stay in power.
Her eldest, Richard the Lion-Hearted, has died in the Crusades; another, King Geffrey, died shortly after siring a son, Arthur, who is now a smart teen. Across the sea in France, Arthur’s mother, Constance, is hell bent to put Arthur in John’s place, and has used her considerable powers of seduction and hysteria to persuade King Philip of France and Limoges, Duke of Austria to bring destruction to her dead husband’s family. Who should rightly inherit England’s throne, Brother or Son?
Into this sordid war steps a stranger, the handsome Philip Faulconbridge. Though raised by a high born Lord, Philip the Bastard bears an uncanny resemblance to King John’s beloved brother, Richard the Lion Hearted. In one of the play’s most touching and funny scenes, Philip’s mother, Lady Faulconbridge, confesses all her sins and The Bastard becomes England’s great Champion. On to the battle of Angiers, where a modest but extremely clever citizen, Hubert, has to think fast if he wants to save his city from ruin- but at what cost? Can the fat dowry of an arranged marriage between the battle-toughened Blanche and the effete Lewis end the bloodshed? And what about the fearsome Cardinal Pandulph? Furious with King John for plundering Church coffers, this cold-blooded cleric demands a voice in this drunken, bloody face-off-if he gets his way, the bloodshed will never end.
With secret orders of gruesome execution, rapidly shifting loyalties, and cries for revenge from both within and without, King John puts audiences on the edge of their seats, roaring with laughter, and breathless at its thrilling scenes of mutilation, battle, and mayhem.
The cast will feature Eric Doss as King John, Karen Lynn Gorney as Elinor, Amy Frances Quint as Constance, Hamish Carmichael as Arthur and Luke Edward Smith as the Bastard of Faulconbridge.-The actors also include Greg London, Jonathan Reed Wexler, David Elyha, and Ilaria Amadasi. Set design is by Andy Estep. Costume design is by Nina Vartanian. Lighting design is by Dennis Parichy. Combat is by Marcus Watson. Music Director is Ian McDonald (King Crimson, Foreigner).
Karen Lynn Gorney (Elinor) is best known as the romantic star of the film “Saturday Night Fever” (rejecting John Travolta after winning a dance contest with him) and as Tara Martin on ABC’s “All My Children.” She is a member of the Irish Rep Company and a founding member of Frog and Peach Theatre Company, where she has appeared in “King John,” “Richard III” and “Hamlet.” Eric Doss (King John) played Angelo in Frog and Peach’s “Measure for Measure” in 2012 and the Ghost in “Hamlet” last season. Amy Frances Quint’s roles at F&P include Kate in “Taming of the Shrew” and Rosencrantz in “Hamlet.”
Frog and Peach Theatre Company (www.frogandpeachtheatre.org), now in its twentieth season, was co-founded by Ted Zurkowski and Lynnea Benson – both lifetime members of The Actors Studio- and is dedicated to bringing Shakespeare’s plays in a way that is thrilling, fast-paced, true to the text, and startlingly relevant to modern audiences. Artistic Director Lynnea Benson has directed over two dozen Shakespeare productions for Frog and Peach including “Measure for Measure,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Twelfth Night,” “Cymbeline,” “Macbeth,” “As You Like It” (with Sidney Williams and Emmy-winner Camryn Grimes) “Richard III” (starring Anatol Yusef of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”); “Hamlet” (with Austin Pendleton as Claudius and The Ghost); “Richard II” (with Mr. Pendleton as Richard), “Macbeth” with Jason Kuschner in the title role, “The Merchant of Venice” and “King John” (with Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno as Blanche).
For those unfamiliar with “King John,” this production may prove a very good immersion for newcomers to the complex play. Last season, F&P’s “Hamlet” was presented with a clarity that made most of its critics call it outstanding orientation to the play for the unfamiliar. Theater Pizazz (Joel Benjamin) wrote, “the language shines and the story zips along efficiently and clearly. This would be a fine introduction to this play for anyone who’s never seen it before: it’s immediate, ardent and direct.” Off-off Online also commended the piece’s clarity and applauded its “film-noir flavor that enhances the mysterious qualities of Shakespeare’s plot and underscores what’s most suspenseful in the dialogue.”
In 2012, the company presented “The Taming of the Shrew” at the West End Theatre. Deidre Donovan (Curtain Up!) labeled the production “gutsy,” “well-cast” and “tightly directed by Lynnea Benson,” declaring “The Frog and Peach Theatre Company is one of the most durable and best-kept secrets in the New York theater community. Whether it is mounting one of the Bard’s familiar, or not-so-familiar, works, you can bet the actors and creative team will deliver the Shakespearean goods. This Shrew is no exception, and it won’t break your wallet either.” Ralph Greco (www.shortandsweetnyc.com) called it “a briskly-paced 2 hours of absolute delight.”
In 2011, the company presented a memorable production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” NY Theater Buying Guide (Ronald Gross) deemed it “One of the best theater bargains in New York City!” Frog and Peach was called “a brave company that is a jewel of Off-Broadway” and the production was praised as “overflowing with delicious performances.”
The West End Theater is located at 263 West 86th St. (B’way and West End Ave.). “King John” will be performed Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM beginning April 24 and running through May 18. General admission tickets are $18.00. Prepurchase is required for senior and student tickets. Seniors can buy $12 tickets to any performance through May 11 with discount code ELINOR. Student tickets are $12 through May 11 with discount code HUBERT (bring your ID). Box office call SMARTTIX at 212-868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com. The building, theater and its restrooms are all wheelchair accessible.
Frog & Peach Theatre will present “King John” at West End Theater, 263 West 86th St., April 24 – May 18, 2014, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $18 gen. Adm., $12 seniors and students and can be purchased at www.smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444.