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BWW Review: Brave Spirits Theatre Presents A KING AND NO KING

In keeping with Brave Spirits Theatre's commitment to producing overlooked works from Shakespeare's contemporaries, the company's staging of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's A KING AND NO KING marks a DC metro area professional premiere. An excellent cast and a modern approach by director Cassie Ash and the creative team make this production worthwhile.

Brendan Edward Kennedy stars as Arbaces, King of Iberia, in this incestuous tragicomedy. Kennedy strikes the right balance between exaggerated comedy and depth of feeling as he longs for his beautiful and virtuous sister Panthea, played by the equally skilled Kathryn Zoerb. Arbaces has been away at war for years and just defeated Tigranes, King of Armenia (Gary DuBreuil), now his prisoner. He'd planned to marry Tigranes off to Panthea upon his return home, but didn't expect to come back unable to recognize Panthea, and to be instantly, irrevocably attracted to her. Things are further complicated by Tigranes' existing engagement to Spaconia (Alison Talvacchio), who travels to Iberia with the ridiculous Captain Bessus (Ian Blackwell Rogers) and attempts to prevent Tigranes' marriage to Panthea.

The proceedings are peppered with amusing Shakespearean scenes testing out faulty logic and exploring paradoxes. Actors spout Jacobean era verses as freshly as if they were 140-character tweets. In one scene, Jenna Berk and Rebecca Ellis play Iberian wives thrilled to snap an actual selfie with Arbaces. Costumes (Adalia Tonneyck) range from stately silhouettes worthy of "Game of Thrones" to, in this scene, yoga pants. Somehow the various aesthetics coalesce, classic but contemporary. This is helped by the black box-type setting; with the barest of props and an absence of scenic design, the action exists in its own realm. Lighting (Jason Aufdem-Brinke), however, changes dramatically and often, to the point that it becomes somewhat distracting.

The events of A KING AND NO KING, about to descend into dark tragedy as Arbaces contemplates acts of violence, veer into blithe comedy in a deus ex machina ending. But any critics of the storyline will nonetheless be entertained by the play's intellectual comedy. The cast carries off each scene with deft timing and, where warranted, over-the-top emotion, until the end. I was left wanting to check out the other play in Brave Spirits' The Incest Rep, John Ford's straight-up tragedy 'TIS A PITY SHE'S A WHORE - probably a great complement.

Running time: approximately 2 hours 15 minutes, including one 10-minute intermission.

Brave Spirits Theatre's A KING AND NO KING runs through April 23, 2017, at the Lab at Convergence, 1819 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by visiting www.bravespiritstheatre.com.

Photo: Brendan Edward Kennedy as Arbaces and Briana Manente as Mardonius; photo by Claire Kimball, courtesy of Brave Spirits Theatre.


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