Monarch Notes

Most annoying of all, as he nearly throws away the play's best role, is Derek Smith, the last two-thirds of whose Bastard of Falconbridge make up a strong, lucid, energizing performance. What they can't make up for is the first third, in which Smith chooses to tackle the character as a multiple-choice exam: His first choice, lurching and guttural, is Frankenstein's monster with wisecracks, followed by Huck Finn and, when he's left alone to revel in his newfound knighthood, by a manic unfunniness that suggests life backstage with Danny Kaye. During all this, barely a line of what he says and does makes any human sense at all. The audience's bond with Falconbridge, so vital for following both his twisted character and the twisty sequence of events, is never forged.

Derek Smith as the Bastard of Falconbridge in King John: verse case scenario
photo: Gerry Goostein
Derek Smith as the Bastard of Falconbridge in King John: verse case scenario

Details

King John
By William Shakespeare
American Place Theatre
111 West 46th Street 212-239-6200

Under such circumstances, the roles that sound only a few simple notes invariably come off best: Mark Vietor makes the French king's pious dignity true and gripping; Bruce Turk catches both the Dauphin's fervor and his sourly comic disillusionment; Neil Maffin is an astringent, angry Salisbury, Nicholas Kepros a smoothly cagey Pandulph, Michael Ray Escamilla well-spoken as the play's several child characters. Michael Rogers, as Hubert, strikes the best balance of all the principals, sustaining his grander passages with taut, grim-lipped simplicity. When loftier emotions take over Hubert, you can hear the thunder start to roll in Rogers's voice, but he resolutely fights off the temptation to rant. There's probably a moral in that, but no sensible critic would draw a moral after seeing King John.

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