Just fine, thanks to the cast's smart decision to appear in contemporary clothes - suits for the men, sophisticated dresses for the women, jeans with an Army-surplus button-down for the hulking Phillip (Ian Bedford), illegitimate son of John's brother, Richard the Lion-Hearted. Only Richard B. Watson's Machiavellian Cardinal Pandulph arrives in a full traditional red cassock, highlighting his separation from the others, though he, too, is soon beaten by his own gamesmanship.
Without the distraction of Elizabethan sartorial puffery, the play's multiple twists in fate and strategy move front and center: John's monarchy is challenged by a claim from Richard's widow, Constance, that her son, Arthur, is rightful heir to England's throne; a marriage created to avert war is thwarted by the pope's excommunication of John. There was so much ground to cover, Shakespeare didn't even get around to mentioning that John's subjects forced him to sign the Magna Carta, thus limiting his own power.
Panic rises in the blue eyes of Greg Wood's John, a desperate, pale shadow of Richard. Given to impulsive, self-destructive decisions, once he realizes he's cornered, he prostrates himself, screaming on the floor like a child in full tantrum - the opposite of his gentle young nephew whom he's just sentenced to death.
Susan Riley Stevens' Constance wields a calculated maternal fury that she pulls back and lets loose at will, with a force so strong it makes the kings around her, John and King Philip of France (Eric Hissom), take a step back and eye each other nervously. And throughout, Bedford's Phillip asserts himself with a chin-thrusting confidence and determination that only highlights John's inadequacies. All the characters, except the kings, are in command of their power.
Clearly, there's something to be said for dispensing with formalities and just aiming straight for the unprotected heart of a play. It helps, of course, to have at hand a team as skilled as the principals in this one.
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