MARQUETTE – Shakespeare is known for bringing age-old themes to light with humor and devastation, revealing their timelessness for modern audiences – like the importance of saying what one means, and the ease of deception.
Westwood Shakespeare Company’s “King Lear,” being performed at Lake Superior Theatre’s boathouse this week, is no exception.
“If for I want that glib and oily art to speak and purpose not – since what I well intend, I’ll do’t before I speak,” Cordelia says in the first act to her father, King Lear. He has just disowned her for expressing her love for him in less-than-flamboyant language and, instead, awarded his entire kingdom to her conniving sisters.
Director Denise Clark, community support services program supervisor at Pathways in Marquette, said one of the most challenging things about bringing the show to life was making Lear a sympathetic character.
“I wanted the audience to understand … that he isn’t right from the beginning, that he’s having some sort of organic problem,” Clark said. “So I had to find that place, sort of demonstrate the weakness of the warrior king’s failing. I think BG (Bradley) as Lear brings a real sympathetic quality, but then does this incredible impulsive anger that I think is true to the diagnosis of dementia.”
And the consequences of Lear’s misstep – trusting the “glib and oily art” of Cordelia’s sisters, Regan and Goneril – are tragic.
“I think people should be prepared for the fact that almost everyone dies,” Clark said.
She made the choice to keep the characters on stage after they die in the final act, even though usually the actors are removed.
“The carnage is there, this is what it looks like,” she said. “So at the end, for Edgar’s, ‘We should be able to say what we feel, not what we ought to say’ soliloquy – it’s a beautiful soliloquy – he is surrounded by death, because it doesn’t go away. It stays.”
Clark said she and the actors discussed in length how this theme feels especially prescient today.
“Right now, we’re living in a world where anyone can blurt out whatever they want without checking the facts,” she said. “It’s so interesting how Shakespeare moves through these themes, that you can say whatever you want, but it’s what you do that matters, you know. And I guess I hope that becomes more true for our society.”
But the show is not all tears and carnage. There is humor and playfulness as well, and Clark said they worked hard to emphasize that.
“We tried to really talk about as a cast, to say well, here’s a moment – like when the fool comes in – how can we make this very lovely and very spontaneous and very fun, because there aren’t that many times like that.”
Clark decided to set the play in the era in which it was written, rather than modernize it, even though, she said, she has seen successful modernizations and enjoyed them.
“It’s written for a certain period, and I like that period,” she said. “I mean, here in this play, (communication) all has to go by letter across the land. Now we just text – everyone would be dead lots quicker.”
This is the first performance by the Westwood Shakespeare Company made up of adults, rather than high school students, which is how the troupe has existed in the past with Bradley as director.
“I’m proud of this – the process has been outstanding. I’m working with a group of my peers, my friends,” Clark said. “Everyone is up there working so hard, and everyone feels it … Very few times in the theater, you can remember the times it magically clicked, and there was, like, glitter on it, and that’s what I feel like with this show. Everybody has worked so hard to be true to the script.”
People might be trepidatious about seeing a Shakespeare play for many reasons, Clark said.
“But I think that this might be the best…that has been done in a long time around here,” she said “The commitment of this troupe has been really rewarding.”
The show will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at the Lake Superior Theatre’s Frazier Boat House, located at 270 Lakeshore Blvd. near Marquette’s Lower Harbor.
Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $12 for students and $7.50 for youth.
The show was adapted for the sake of length by BG Bradley, who also stars as King Lear.
Next year, the Westwood Shakespeare Company plans to do a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy, “As You Like It.” Audition notices will be posted on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/thewestwoodshake spearecompany.
For further information or to order tickets, call LST at 227-ROCK.
Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.