The cast of “King John,” at Folger Theatre. (Teresa Wood)
Folger's 'King John'

Shakespeare wrote his own game of thrones. It’s called “King John,” although among the English dynastic chronicles known as the history plays, the lumbering “John” is not his best. It doesn’t even make the top five. But it does boast some noteworthy characters — particularly the troublemaking Constance, a royal, self-dramatizing stage mother intent on seeing her son ascend the throne. . . . Aaron Posner, a playwright and director who has achieved some of his best results at Folger with Shakespeare’s thornier works, demonstrates again with “King John” a deft command of the art of the overhaul. Lacking a truly galvanizing character — the weak and dissembling John is no Henry V or Richard II — the play has neither a satisfying core nor a powerhouse finale. Nevertheless, Posner builds a lucid argument for the play through a fleet handling of the plot mechanics and a fine cast that includes Holly Twyford as Constance, Brian Dykstra as John and Kate Eastwood Norris as the bastard pretender to the throne, Philip. Through Dec. 2 at Folger Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE. folger.edu/theatre. — Peter Marks


Jaysen Wright and Sylvia Kates in Theater J’s “Actually,” at Arena Stage. (C. Stanley Photography)
Theater J's 'Actually'

The white girl and the black guy are drawn with heavy shades of gray in Anna Ziegler’s tense two-character drama “Actually,” a 90-minute he said/she said about consent and campus rape. . . . As it empathetically pries open the heads and hearts of its two fragile characters, Ziegler’s play powerfully indicts university culture even at elite campuses. The story is set at Princeton, where Amber and Tom (Sylvia Kates and Jaysen Wright) describe being so saturated in booze and overwhelmed by assignments and loneliness that the tacitly accepted bacchanalian pressure-cooker atmosphere is inevitably part of the tragedy. The voices of these two ring true as they swap testimonies directly to us and sometimes act out what happened one drunken night. The way Kates and Wright play Amber and Tom in Theater J’s production, you want to reach out and protect these freshmen as they reveal themselves to be mixed-up jangles of contradictions. Through Nov. 18 at Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle, 1101 Sixth St. SW. theaterj.org. — Nelson Pressley


The cast of “The Fall,” at Studio Theatre. (Oscar O'Ryan)
Studio Theatre's 'The Fall'

Yes, the seven gifted and talented students of “The Fall” tell only one side of a complicated story. But that single side is riven with rhetorical complexity. And as this septet of South African actors piles on the details of the anguishing trials and contradictions of being young and black in a post-apartheid society, the more the narrative gains dramatic and emotional weight. By the end of their absorbing 90-minute, fact-based account at Studio Theatre of the demonstrations and student occupation that rocked the campus of the University of Cape Town in 2015, you’ll feel as if you’re an enlistee in their quest for an equality of opportunity. Their collective outrage is conveyed in the final words of one of them, Tankiso Mamabolo, who tells us the fight for fair treatment has left her sad and exhausted, and with the scars of a battle no 22-year-old should have to wage. Through Nov. 18 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. studiotheatre.org. — P.M.

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