One of the reasons that the plays of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) continue to work, even if the majority of folks in the audience cannot understand the nuances of their language, is that their themes are based on human drama. Such is the case with King Lear, a family tragedy about love, honor and who gets what after Daddy dies. It is a difficult play to perform, because of the multiple layers and the undercurrent of insanity that blossoms into full-blown madness in the second half, so it is a feat for a troupe of actors to pull it off successfully. When that troupe is an independent group run wholly by teens and based in Cary, NC, what would normally be just a respectable attempt at a difficult play becomes a feat of raw talent and amazing artifice. Left Field Theatre is the talented troupe of teenagers who pulled off this feat at Durham’s Common Ground Theatre during the weekend of July 5-7. Indeed, on July 6th, they played to a packed house.
Ezra Brain, the director and choreographer of the production, also plays the role of Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester. When introducing the play, he noted the sold-out performance, as well as the need for theatergoers in the front rows to watch their arms and legs. What he did not mention was his and the troupe’s experience onstage and their avant-garde manner of promoting their plays (search for them on YouTube and you will find a video of them rehearsing the storm scene from King Lear, during a real North Carolina downpour that sounds much like one would imagine the one in Lear to sound).
The story of King Lear is the tale of an old king who is ready to retire but needs to divide his land and wealth among his three daughters. He decides to test their love by asking them to profess the extent of their love for him, and in doing so, decides which of the girls will inherit the estate. Only one (Cordelia, played by Sally Johnson), answers him honestly, and, ironically, is the one who is banished from the kingdom. The other two daughters (Regan, played by Olivia Wood, and Goneril, played by Katherine Randle), lie to their father, telling him of their deep and abiding love for him, in order to get his fortune.
Though the Earl of Kent (portrayed by Michelle McGoogan) protests the King’s decision, she loses the argument and is banished by the king (wonderfully played by Collin Osborne). Through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, the king goes into a downward spiral aided by his court jester (hilariously played by Matt Droujkov) and loses control of not only his mind but of his kingdom.
As in many Shakespearean plays, the family’s drama plays against a war in the background; and in King Lear’s case, the war determines who succeeds Lear. In this case, Lear’s two older daughters (who had been given the keys to his kingdom) die: Goneril, his oldest, poisons Regan, the middle daughter; then realizing her plans have been thwarted by Albany, played by Dylan Cromer, removes herself from the fray and commits suicide. Always faithful to the king, Albany reveals Cordelia’s true love for her father, but she is executed before the king can get to her. He has survived by killing the executioner himself. Albany attempts to get Lear back to his throne; but the king, worn out from his madness and the family catastrophes, dies. The play closes with Albany’s soliloquy and the implication that he will now take on the painful burden of Lear’s throne.
For this troupe to carry this two-and-a-half hour play with only a 15-minute intermission and to do it well is worthy of the applause they received when taking their final bows. In a time when most teenagers are connected to their cell phones and enamored by celebrity status, it is quite refreshing to find a group that is committed to producing Shakespearean plays that demand a gargantuan amount of memorization and a sense of timing and drama. Kudos to this group and to Common Ground Theatre for giving them the stage space to present their work.
KING LEAR (Left Field Theatre, July 5 and 6 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC).
VIDEO PREVIEWS (YouTube videos): http://www.youtube.com/user/Leftfieldtheatre/videos.
King Lear (circa 1603-06 play): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Lear (Wikipedia).
King Lear (e-text): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaKLF.html (1623 First Folio Edition, courtesy University of Virginia) and http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobLear.html (1866 Globe Edition, courtesy UVa).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/kinglear/lear.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (playwright): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.