Fixing King John at No Name Players 

A playwright updates — and improves upon — third-tier Bard.

click to enlarge Fixing King John at No Name Players
  • Photo courtesy of Luke Bruehlman
  • Left to right: Mike Mihm, Hayley Nielsen and Todd Betker in No Name Players' Fixing King John

There are several ways to look at this show's title. In rewriting and reworking Shakespeare's King John, playwright Kirk Lynn "fixes" an unpopular history play, turning it into a hip tragedy. But there's also the title character, who is not just a monarch but a "fix-it" guy, wielding an electric screwdriver like a scepter and a hammer as his weapon of choice. And ultimately, the players are all tools — using and being used.

In its Pittsburgh premiere, the No Name Players production of Fixing King John is funny, fast and profane. Steven Wilson directs a well-chosen cast and design team in this alternative universe of Anglo-French wars and liaisons.

Though outnumbered, the ladies more than hold their own, offering various interpretations of motherhood. Tressa Glover, the company's producing artistic director, vents both vengeance and grief in her plot to place her child on the throne. Cary Anne Spear is pleasantly dotty, and dotes on her son, King John. Outscheming them all is the young wannabe mom, studiously played by Hayley Nielsen.

Gregory Lehane explores the nuances of father, warrior and king of France. Jody O'Donnell makes for a dashing Dauphin. Mike Mihm is gritty in many senses of the word as the title character. Matt Henderson, a dependable source of comic relief, will probably be playing unfortunate children until he is grey. Ricardo Vila-Roger and Todd Betker portray notable schemers, with Jason Spider Matthews as an unlikely knight.

No Name artistic director Don DiGiulio literally sets the scene: a throne room in what seems to be a basement workshop for England, a wild splash of color for France. Costume designer Beth Steinberg's Brits are dirty and disheveled; their foes wear spiffy suits.

For what it's worth, 2013's Fixing King John is not very dissimilar from Shakespeare's original, but much improved by eliding characters, shredding battle scenes and updating lingo. Some plot changes even make the play seem more, well, Shakespearean.


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