Animal Fire Theatre — Olympia’s own Shakespeare-in-the-park company — heads back into the woods this weekend with “King John.”
The rarely produced history play, opening in Priest Point Park, tells the story of the rule of the evil king and those attempting to unseat him and put his nephew Arthur on the throne instead.
“A lot of the story is like ‘Game of Thrones’ without the dragons and zombies,” said director Scott Douglas, an Animal Fire veteran making his local directorial debut. “With the political intrigue, there are a lot of parallels.
“We did a reading, and everybody was really taken with the language and what a different kind of play it is,” he added.
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While the history play might sound less appealing to some than the bard’s fantastical comedies and bloody tragedies, the play includes elements of both.
“Shakespeare’s histories are really pretty visceral,” said Kate Arvin, the play’s production manager. “There’s a lot of action. It really sucks you in and pulls you along.”
Action is part of the process for Animal Fire. The company takes its name from the fact that each actor chooses an animal to work with in developing a character.
Growling and howling are common at rehearsals, drawing the attention of picnickers — and occasionally even law enforcement — when the company is preparing for a production.
“After doing the animal work, our rehearsals really bumped up a notch,” Douglas said.
Kate Ayers, playing Lord Pembroke, made a surprising choice — an otter.
“At first, that was really cute, but it actually was perfect,” Douglas said. “The physicality played really well. Otters are actually predators. That surprised a lot of people — both the choice and the actress’ take on it.”
Among the other local actors in the cast are Pug Bujeaud, Brian Hatcher and Dennis Worrell.
Also playing a starring role are the period costumes, provided by Costume Atelier Masque & Pettycote, a new shop downtown.
“These costumes are so gorgeous that you could see the show just for the costumes,” Arvin said.
But there are lots of other reasons to come out to the park with your picnic, chair and warm layers in case the night turns chilly.
For one, “King John” makes politics personal.
“You’re seeing grand politics being enacted by individuals,” Arvin said. “We don’t really get to see that in modern times. The way Shakespeare shows it, it’s not ‘This country is fighting with this country’; it’s ‘This person is having a problem with this other person,’ and because they represent different countries it’s so grand and powerful and impacts so many different lives.”
And many of the characters are related, so the struggle is all in the family, Douglas said.
And the play’s jaundiced view of politics will feel familiar in today’s political climate.
“Even though this is 800 years ago and with an absolute monarchy, the issues and the way that public opinion is brought to bear are very modern,” he said.
What: Animal Fire Theatre offers the rarely produced history play as its sixth annual Shakespeare in the park production.
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday (Aug. 7)-Sunday, plus Aug. 13-16 and 20-23.
Where: Priest Point Park, 2600 East Bay Drive NE, Olympia. The play happens on the west side of the park. There’s a map on the website.
Also: Bring a chair or a blanket. Picnics are welcome, as are dogs and kids, but the play includes violence, so use discretion if bringing young ones.
Tickets: Free, with donations accepted.