Many things remind me of summer. Del’s, the window at Newport Creamery, the Rustic, and Shakespeare in the park. It’s not summer without these things! The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater (TRIST) has been giving Rhode Islanders free Shakespeare shows under the direction of Bob Colonna since 1971. This summer, with the beautiful city as their backdrop, TRIST is presenting The Life and Death of King John. This play is not traditionally a “go-to” play, but Colonna does a fine job making the material accessible to a wide audience.
Pop culture is peppered throughout this history play from the beginning guitar strums of a Rolling Stones cover. It sets the mood for the evening; you’re going to see some Shakespeare, and it’s going to be fun! These 12 performers tackle 18 roles flawlessly and despite the city’s added soundtrack. (In fact, during the performance I saw, Linda Kamajian, who plays Constance, acknowledged the horrendous street noise as if she was sharing a secret with the audience. It was an endearing once-in-a-blue-moon moment!)
Mark Carter’s portrayal of King John is one that will not be forgotten. Running around the stage with a laugh that suggests the king is insane, all the while holding a minion from Despicable Me, Carter exudes energy.
Meryn Flynn plays a regal Queen Elinor and has us laughing a few times with not only her fantastic delivery, but some pop culture worked into the beginning. Audiences even get to hear her beautiful singing voice from time to time. It’s a real treat!
Geoff White’s Hubert goes almost unnoticed until after intermission. He lurks in the background, occasionally smoking, and always assisting with set changes. It is when he has a breakdown over the difference between what he has been told to do and what he is accused of doing that he really gets to stretch his acting chops, and he does a wonderful job.
Elizabeth Kinnane as Arthur is at times reminiscent of the little boy in the O Henry story The Ransom of Red Chief, and she plays the part quite well for a girl so young. Her moment of staged crying is very funny.
The show is peppered with a few delightful moments from a Titanic reference to a simulated fight scene that resembles a movie montage. The physicality of the cast is not to be missed. TRIST is to be commended for taking this play and breathing life into it. It is not Shakespeare’s strongest, but TRIST’s interpretation is a lovely way to kick off your summer.
The Life and Death of King John ends Sun, Jun 7. All shows are at 8pm at the Roger Williams National Memorial.