To fix: to repair, to put in order, to place more permanently, or (more colloquially) to sterilize.
While I’m not sure any of these definitions quite capture what local playwright, Kirk Lynn, has done in "Fixing King John," playing through Nov. 24 at the Off Center, Lynn has nevertheless injected one of Shakespeare’s least performed plays with a dose of vitality that brings it vibrantly and hilariously (back) to life.
Lynn calls his play "an attack borne out of respect," and the result both does and does not feel like Shakespeare.
Even with decidedly modern language (and oodles of profanity), the show retains a poetry that holds unmistakable threads of Shakespearean verse.
And once it’s pared down to a manageable number of characters, the tale of British power and betrayal becomes enchantingly riveting.
Shakespeare wrote history plays for good reason: in the days before DNA testing and congressional oversight, political ascension often hinged on intrigue and murder, and power went largely unchecked.
"Fixing King John" strips Shakespeare’s work to the bones and offers the bare minimum by way of set, costume, and language.
However, the modern profanity does not feel out of place, and we can delight in the streak of "Jersey Shore" running through E. Jason Liebrecht’s performance of the hotheaded monarch.
Jeffrey Mills makes it easy to see why everyone loves the young prince Arfur — with his puppy-like innocence and adorable bow tie. And Barbara Chisholm captivates us with her rendition of Constance — who, in this version of the story, seems a lot like a soccer mom on steroids.
In this production, the Rude Mechanicals return to environmental theater, allowing the audience to sit where they will on scaffolding familiar to anyone who experienced the Rude’s remount of "Dionysus in ‘69."
The show also starts out feeling more like a party than a performance: the cast mingles with audiences before the show and during intermission, adult beverages are made readily available, and a casual atmosphere pervades.
Though one explanation for the minimalism is that the show is funded entirely by ticket sales, the absence of pomp and circumstance is possibly what makes the production feel so sincere. The Rude’s illustrate that there’s something more to Shakespeare than Elizabethan costumes or clever set design or even the very language of the Bard.
And true to Rude Mech form, some of the loveliest moments are the clearly non-Shakespearean asides when the actors step out of character to describe how they would have preferred to die — a seemingly minor flourish that nevertheless reminds us of the grim realities of war.
"Fixing King John" continues through Nov. 24 at the Off Center, 2211 Hidalgo St. www.rudemechs.com.