Thursday, October 16, 2014

ArtsEmerson Presents "King Lear" by Shakespeare's Globe On Tour - A Crowning Achievement

Joseph Marcell
King Lear
Shakespeare's Globe on Tour

There are emanations of inventive artistry and cutting edge creativity being broadcast from the four corners of the earth.  Somehow, the folks at ArtsEmerson have managed to attune themselves and to calibrate their radar to pick up on the wavelengths of these noteworthy signals, and have sent out a homing beacon that draws the best of the best of innovative productions to The World On Stage at Emerson's sumptuous performance spaces of the Cutler Majestic Theatre and the Paramount Center.  The latest production to grace an Emerson stage is the Shakespeare's Globe's "King Lear."

"King Lear" is widely considered Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, yet it is so infrequently performed that this was my first opportunity to attend a fully mounted production of the play.  In this Globe production, parts are doubled and the entire cast is comprised of five men and three women playing all of the 20+ roles.  They present the play as if it were being done for an Elizabethan audience out of doors in the daylight, so a small "booth-style stage" has been constructed within the Paramount, and the play is presented to an audience that can be seen by the actors since the house lights remain on throughout the production.  The effect is that it often feels as if the characters are speaking directly to those of us in the audience, and we are engaged with them in a tacit dialogue.

Last evening's Opening Night audience sat entranced, mesmerized and moved - by the timeless rhythms of Shakespeare's language and by the flawless delivery of the text and the emotional subtext of the play presented by a supremely gifted coterie of actors.  Leading that cast is the indomitable Joseph Marcell, best known to American audiences for his portrayal of Geoffrey in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."  He is, in fact, a classically trained actor from the Royal Shakespeare Company who is as comfortable in the briar patch of Elizabethan speech as is Br'er Rabbit in the literal thorny bush where he was wont to dwell.  His portrayal of the doddering king "more sinned against than sinning" is a tour de force that is troubling and deeply moving.  As a father, I found myself empathizing with his dealing with three daughters from whom he becomes estranged.  The moment near the climax of the play when he cradles in his arms his banished daughter, Cordelia, struck me like a thunder bolt.

Joseph Marcell
King Lear
Photo by Ellie Kurttz

The tragedy also weaves in a subplot of another father, the Earl of Gloucester, struggling with the real and apparent ingratitude of his two sons - one legitimate and the other a bastard.  The play at its heart is a tale about the complexities of loyalties and dis-loyalties within families and among families.

Supporting Mr. Marcell and artfully directed by Bill Buckhurst are the following gifted actors, each one shining with individual brilliance, but truly sparkling as an ensemble finely tuned to one another's every breath and movement:

Gwendolen Chatfield as Goneril/Curan
Bethan Cullinane as Cordeia/Fool
Alex Mugnaioni as Edgar/Duke of Cornwall/Duke of Burgundy
Bill Nash as Earl of Kent
Daniel Pirrie as Edmund/Oswald/King of France
Shanaya Rafaat as Regan
John Stahl as Gloucester/Duke of Albany/Doctor

The simplicity of the staging and the absence of elaborate sets and costumes allows Shakespeare's time-tested text to speak clearly to us across the centuries.  It is clear that he had tapped into understandings of family dynamics that are just as real today as they were when Lear raged against the treachery of his daughters:

"If it be you that stir these daughters’ hearts 
Against their father, fool me not so much 
To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger, 
And let not women’s weapons, water-drops, 
Stain my man’s cheeks! No, you unnatural hags"

"King Lear" will be presented through October 23.  I strongly urge you to delight your eyes, ears, mind and soul by betaking you to the ArtsEmerson website to procure your tickets, and then hence to the Paramount for an evening that you will not soon forget.  Do it - "lest the vault of heaven crack"!

ArtsEmerson - King Lear



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