Washington theater fans think they know Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Floyd King. This makes sense. After all, hundreds, maybe thousands, of Washington area theatergoers have spent plenty of time with him going back to the 1980s. It’s true that he’s had different faces in different roles, but we feel like we know him well enough. We’ve seen his Parolles, his Feste, his fool, all the people in “A Tale of Two Cities”, and the ale-loving delegate from Rhode Island in “1776”.
King greets his fans with a handshake in the lobby of the Lansburgh Theatre, where he and the rest of the Shakespeare Theatre Company is in rehearsal for a production of an adaptation of Gogol’s “The Government Inspector”, which runs through Oct. 28. King’s manner is casual, his face is recognizable and his voice is more so, modulated down to conversation.
King is pumped about the production, which is a true ensemble piece. It brings together a horde of actors with whom he’s worked with before. “That’s what I love about this, it’s like some sort of party, almost, or reunion, Nancy [Robinette], Ted [Sabin], Rich [Foucheoux], and all the others, including Hugh Nees, Derek Smith, Sarah [Marshall],” he says. “We’ve all been around a while and we all know each other.”
Michael Kahn is directing. About the only AWOL actor is Ted van Griethuysen, with whom King has worked many times. “We’re old friends,” King said of him. He was the fool to van Griethuysen’s Lear, and together they played the bumbling duo of Dogberry and Verges in “Much Ado About Nothing” like the two stumbling bums in “Waiting for Godot”, the absurdist play by Samuel Beckett.
Most theater folks will tell you that King is one of the area’s finest comic actors, especially in Shakespeare plays. Being a great comic actor is only an inch away from being a great tragedian, or as an actor once said, “Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard.”
King thinks recognizes that fine, wavering, trembling line. This is what King brings to the acting game. His voice alone can elicit laughter. He can also become becalmed, introspective, preen like a peacock on a dime.
After seeing King in so many plays, we often we feel as if we know him. Here are some things we don’t know.
Much of King’s career has been spent in Washington, but, surprisingly, he isn’t a Washingtonian. “I have a place in New York, and a house in the Poconos,” he said. “I go there for peace and quiet, and it’s easy to get to from New York.”
There’s one more thing we didn’t know about King.
“This is the last play I’ll be doing in Washington this season,” he said. “Yes, that’s it at least for this season. I haven’t contracted for any other roles. I haven’t taken any other offers.”
Shakespeare is King’s bread and butter, but he believes its time for a change of pace.
“I’ve done most of the parts I can suited for in Shakespeare,” said King. “I want to take stock. I want to relax a little. I want to go back to Minnesota, and San Francisco and other places. It’s not permanent. It’s just time for a change a little bit.”
This makes King’s appearance as a postmaster in “The Government Inspector” all the more special.
“I’m enjoying it,” he said.
You should too. In the meantime, we’ll all be “Waiting for Gogol,” for the return of the King.