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March 17, 2010 > Theatre Preview: A spoof on Shakespeare

Theatre Preview: A spoof on Shakespeare

By Dustin Findley

Spoof is one of those funny words not often paired with Shakespeare. Usually it is used to describe a parody of another, more popular movie. However, "spoof" is the most accurate description of King John The Comedy now playing at Calaveras Repertory Theatre. King John does not take Shakespeare's play seriously; in fact, far from it. The show is a spoof on this particular play, a spoof on Shakespeare and a spoof on theatre, though good natured.

The title, "King John, The Comedy" is used to indicate that liberties have been taken with Shakespeare's original text, which id far from comedic. Most of the play is written by Shakespeare; the overall plot follows the original text. Comedy comes from the delivery of content, not added material.

Knowledge of the plot does not spoil the play, rather makes it more enjoyable for those less fluent in Shakespearean verbiage. The original King John is one of Shakespeare's histories. King John has become King of England upon the death of his brother King Richard, the Lionheart. England has territories in France and the French contest the selection of John as the new king. Sons, brothers, nephews, cousins lay claim to the throne. France wants someone - anyone - who is not John.

We are introduced to the protagonist, named Bastard, who renounces land and title to serve King John. France and England go to war and join in battle at a town called Algiers. The Algiers conflict is solved with a marriage after much bloodshed. England and France, in the form of King John and King Phillip, literally join hands.

King John plots the demise of his kind hearted nephew Arthur, whom French and English lords believe to be the true heir to the English throne. But it does not go as planned. In this version King John is poisoned by a jolly archer with green arrows and initials "R and H." Prince Henry cameos to witness, cry, weep, mourn, and succeed the throne.

The poisoning of King John has been adapted in this play to a far more poetic demise, then in history or Shakespeare's play. The Calaveras Rep version acknowledges King John's signature of the Magna Carta, unlike Shakespeare's but is quick to admit dramatic license.

The spoof emerges with many gags, sight and otherwise, sprinkled throughout the show like humorous gems. Dead characters converse after they are dead, one time reminding the other players "I am slain." Many costume and character changes are handled seamlessly and at least twice conducted on stage for comic effect.

John Ribovich, artistic director and playwright adapter for this King John, described the show as Shakespeare for people who love Shakespeare and people who hate Shakespeare. In reality the show is for people who love theatre, and for people who hate theatre. King John The Comedy is slapstick and poetry; speaking Shakespeare helps but is not required. In any case those lucky enough to attend these performances will laugh at and with Shakespeare more than ever thought possible.

King John The Comedy
Thursdays - Sundays, March 17 - March 28
8 p.m. (Sundays 2 p.m.)
Samuel Ayer Education Center
1331 E. Calaveras Blvd., Milpitas
(408) 586-8831

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