We sat down with Aaron Posner and Brian Dykstra of the Folger Theatre's "King John" production.

The Folger Theatre in conjunction with the Folger Shakespeare Library is well-known in the District for producing creative and provocative interpretations of the Bard’s work. This season is no different, as they tackle one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works – King John. The play, which opens on October 23, tells the story of John, Richard the Lionheart’s brother, and his ascension to the throne. As Folger’s tagline so eloquently states, between “secret deals, threats of mass destruction, and shifting loyalties” it seems not much has changed in the last 800 years.

To learn more about the piece, and what’s in store for the upcoming production, I had the opportunity to chat with the show’s direction, Aaron Posner and the production’s leading man, King John himself, Brian Dykstra.

Scenic Design Rendering -- Folger Theatre

Aaron Posner, Director of King John

Aaron Posner has been a member of the D.C. theatre community for many years, as a director of shows at Theatre J and Ford’s, as well as previous shows at Folger. In fact, King John will mark the 20th show he’s directed at Folger. He attended college for writing and directing and always enjoyed that side of the theatre as opposed to appearing on stage himself. Even before college though, he found his passion for Shakespeare by attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with his parents as a young child. He was moved by the words of Shakespeare and found himself consistently returning to them throughout his studies and his work.

Currently, he’s just a few days out from opening a brand-new interpretation of one of the Bard’s works. That task seems daunting enough; however, before taking on directing duties for this production, Posner admits to never reading or even seeing the piece performed. Although he counts himself quite knowledgeable in many of his works, this was not a piece he was familiar with. That didn't stop him though from accepting the offer to direct a rather political play in D.C. during this current political climate. 

Posner feels that most of Shakespeare’s works are quite political in nature, therefore parallels are always drawn between the royalty in the plays and whatever administration is currently in power at the present. Additionally, Posner believes that Shakespeare's plays reveal a complicated intersection between the personal and the political. That explains why 400 years later, artists are still striving to take on his work.

Posner credits Folger’s library with his desire to direct King John. He attended the Winston Churchill exhibit presented by the library, which included many quotes from the real-life King John. Again, he was struck by the words and their relevance to today’s society. He went on to say that audiences can expect some very moving scenes, amid the politically charged atmosphere of the play. D.C. today seems to be the perfect home for King John and Posner’s vision for the piece.

Brian Dysktra, Plays King John in King John

Brian Dykstra has done a great deal of work onstage, in and out of town. He’s appeared in productions on and off Broadway, as well as in theatres across the country. He credits Aaron Posner as his “good luck charm” and the reason why he originally became involved with this production of King John. Dykstra was playing a mostly silent role in Lucky Guy in New York a few years ago, when Posner cast him as Juliet’s father in Romeo & Juliet at Folger. While at the time it may have looked like a step down, Dykstra said that he just wanted to say lines on stage and that the move to Romeo & Juliet allowed him to do just that. He’s still thankful to Posner for giving him the opportunity.

Aside from Romeo & Juliet and King John, Dykstra has portrayed other Shakespeare characters on stage. His first job out of college was in a Shakespeare show, and that shaped his thoughts about the playwright. He feels that there is “no better playwright in the history of the world” and that Shakespeare is part of a crew (Moliere and Chekhov included) that completely changed the face of theatre for the better.

Dykstra reiterates that the fun in tackling shows by Shakespeare in the current environment is that there are always parallels. Even all these years later, the material that Shakespeare was writing about is still relevant. Specifically, in getting to do a show like King John, it’s enjoyable to present material that speaks directly to the current time. The topics of power and politics are still important. He believes it helps to be performing in this type of politically charged show at Folger because in D.C. no one seems to be shocked by political theatre.

Regarding the character he’s playing, Dysktra points out his lack of preparation to be king as John’s driving force. He believes that John would have relished the chance to have been passed over, because he wouldn’t have had the same amount of responsibility thrust on his shoulders, and he would have been given the chance to complain about being passed over. Added to his character, Dykstra points out that he’s also enjoying seeing Posner’s point of view come to life on stage.

Between the parallels to the current political landscape, the eternal words of Shakespeare, and the onstage and behind the scenes work of experienced Shakespearean creatives, King John looks to be a memorable show for sure.

King John plays the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington D.C., 20003, starting on October 23 and will play through December 2, 2018. For tickets, visit their website.

Do you plan to go see King John this fall? What's your favorite Shakespeare play? Tell us in the comments below!

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