what i'm watching: soulpepper's king lear

I asked them to surprise me, and surprise me they did. Lear was great.

The performances were understated and powerful. The staging flowed effortlessly on a bare thrust stage. The language was clear and riveting.

Did Soulpepper stop rehearsing everything else and save it all up for Shakespeare? Do they secretly dislike Tom Stoppard and David Mamet? I'm kidding, of course, but I was impressed and frankly amazed. This was far and away the best Soulpepper production of the season.

We actually had seen several of the actors before, including the actor playing Lear, who had a medium-sized part in Gogol's The Government Inspector, and both of the actors playing Regan and Goneril. Each turned in performances that dwarfed anything else we saw this year.

By coincidence, the performance we attended was designated for school groups. The students looked high school age, or maybe older middle school. Before curtain, a few actors gave a talk, highlighting some key words, major themes and staging concepts. It was very well done.

The audience - and I say this with admiration and respect - was stellar. We've been trapped in much noisier, more poorly-behaved audiences chocked full of experienced theatre-goers. I assume the kids were getting it, too, because I heard several people around me sniffling and wiping away tears.

As I mentioned yesterday, I find Lear the most tragic of all tragedies. Hamlet is riveting, but I doubt most audiences relate to it on a personal level. But the pain of a broken family, and of blind, stubborn mistakes, is something many of us have felt. As the third and youngest child, estranged from a dictatorial father for much of my life, it's not hard to figure why this play hits home for me. Which is really something to say about a 400-year-old piece of writing.

A few scenes were especially devastating. The opening scene, when Lear disowns and banishes Cordelia; the scene where Lear curses Goneril with infertility; and the scene where Lear wakes and begins to recognize Cordelia. Some "lesser" scenes were extremely effective, too: Edmund's soliloquy on bastardy and fate; France's declaration of love for the dowry-less Cordelia; Lear's first recognition of his terrible mistake.

By the time the lights came up, I was emotionally wrung out. Damn, I love good theatre.


Jenjenjigglepants said...

My short "Lear" memory: I lucked into a Shakespeare course(hard to get in if you weren't an English mj)in university from an absolutely amazing prof. A Brit (of course), down to earth (!), and had been teaching for about 40 years by that point. He could recite passages of WS, the Bible, Christopher Marlowe, Ovid's "Metamorphoses", or whatever was relevant, at will. He was great. Except on day one when he said "I realised this summer that this year would mark the 26th year in a row that I've taught 'Lear'. It's a very challenging text and I need a break. This year we will do 'Merry Wives' instead." Aagh! A play so important that you've taught it 25 years straight and THIS year you've changed your mind?! Although I do love Merry Wives as a result, I've also been frightened off by the "very challenging" comment by him. I suppose though, that it's been 12 years, I should just suck it up an read it!
Cheers, jjjp

L-girl said...

Ack!! No fair!

Perhaps challenging to teach, but no more challenging to read than any other Shakespeare. Plus there are so many good study guides available free online.

Go for it. Bring a tissue.

James said...

And there's always that great film adaptation, Ran by Akira Kurosawa. :)

One of my favourite Shakespeare events was when a friend of mine put on a movie night showing Mel Gibson's Hamlet back to back with Rosencrantz and Guilenstern Are Dead.

It was really fun watching his expression when I mentioned that Strange Brew is an adaptation of Hamlet, and he realized (after his initial protestations) that it's true...

L-girl said...

And there's always that great film adaptation, Ran by Akira Kurosawa. :)

Oh yeah, a great movie.

There's also the Jane Smiley novel, A Thousand Acres.

M@ said...

On the R&GaD subject... I LOVED this movie when it came out (during my last year of high school I think). So I picked it up when it came out on DVD at last... and I was disappointed. Honestly, I went in expecting to love it again, and it seemed dreary and dated.

Except Hamlet. Wasn't that guy great? He's one of the best Hamlets on film, I'd say, even though they only show about four of his scenes. I was impressed.

I also saw a university production of R&GaD, and learned that the movie only covers the first two (of three) acts, really. I mean, they still die at the end, but there's a lot that goes on in the meantime. Always thought that was odd.

I haven't seen Ran but Throne of Blood was chilling. I must get to Ran some time.