After a busy few days’o’theatre, I find myself with a night off of seeing anything…but two reviews in the hole. Guess who’ll be spending his ‘night off’ sitting in front of his computer writing stuffs? Don’t worry, I’m not complaining…I got myself into this delightful mess, and somehow, I’ll write myself out of it.
It all started on the day after SUBDEVISION, still fluttering on a joyous high from that experience. I daydreamed through my 9 to 5 drudgery, wandered down to the canal and stared at the waters a spell (something I have not done in many a moon, I have to say…it was refreshing), then headed in to Canada’s National Arts Centre for what looked to be a pretty special evening. Notwithstanding that about 4 different events were going on inside the NAC that night (several of which I wanted to catch), this night was the premiere of KING LEAR…the final piece in the current English season, and the highly anticipated all-Aboriginal casting of Shakespeare’s grand, violent epic. Also, it was ComicCon weekend, so there was a decent chance that Shatner might show up! Hey, it could happen!
Alas, no Kirk, but there was fame and prestige aplenty at the NAC that night. Outgoing Artistic Director (and LEAR director) Peter Hinton delivered a moving pre-show address, noting that this version of the Bard had been in the planning stages for some 40 years, originating with Chief Dan George and August Schellenberg…the latter of whom would wear Lear’s crown on stage for this production. Then, after perhaps the final time I’ll ever hear Peter Hinton urging me to unwrap a soothing lozenge, the lights dimmed, drums pounded, and a revolutionary new LEAR was underway.
Set on an even-more-sprawling than usual stage (the usual semi-circle of front-row seats have been eaten up for this production), KING LEAR is, in a nutshell, the story of an aging king betrayed by ego and madness, who divides his house among backstabbing daughters, casting the loyalest of them all out in a fit of pique. Meanwhile, his trusted aide the Earl of Gloucester is pitted against his heroic son Edgar by his bastard son Edmund, resulting in a rather unusual choice of alter-egos for Edgar, and an eye-gouging scene worthy of the ages.
(side note: it’s an interesting thing, trying to encapsulate KING LEAR a second time in just a few months..I now almost hope somebody ELSE puts it on this year, so I can go for the hat trick).
The gargantuan set was simple, but effective, and I LOVED the doors. And the Aboriginal twist, essentially setting the play in 16th century Canada, was visually stunning…although, and this will sound a little odd at first..I do wish they had, well, Aborigine’d it up a bit. Via the script, that is…it was jarring to see these majestic native figures, talking about the cliffs of Dover and France and Cornwall…someone couldn’t have taken a few minutes to fanfictionalize the text a little to reflect the new setting? A personal peeve. It pulled me out at times, but that’s just me.
The performances, while mostly strong, were actually surprisingly uneven given the weight of the production. Schellenberg always commanded respect (or pity, as it was called for) as the failing Lear, although even he suffered from a fumbled line more than once. Still, he brought a serious presence to the role, and added some great comedic bits as well…I get the feeling Mssr.Schellenberg is quick with a smile off the stage. Jani Lauzon did some spirited double duty as wise Cordelia, as well as the King’s randy, blaspehmous fool. And I was tickled to see that Kevin Loring of VIMY was on hand to play one of the juiciest roles, scheming bastard Edmund. He did the role a solid, lending the villain some great presence onstage, and giving as good as he got in probably the best fight scene in the show. He had some great interplay with the other key villains of the piece, wicked daughters Regan and Goneril (Tantoo Cardinal and Monique Mojica). I especially dug Cardinal’s Regan…what is it about that role? Brings out the fun, nasty streak in actors, and I love it. Gordon Patrick White’s Edgar came to life once the transformation to ‘Poor Tom’ came about
All told, it was a cool night out at the NAC’s LEAR..although it felt like something was off. Part of it may have been me, for very sure…fresh off of SUBDEVISION, I was still in intimate theatre mode, and KING LEAR is definitely big, big theatre. Make no mistake, this show is a crowd-pleaser, and an important show indeed. We should all be proud that we’ve made it to a place where this production can even happen…it should have been long ago. I’m DEFINITELY proud that it’s happening in Ottawa. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)