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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Shakespeare in the Park

Cordelia & Lear in prison, painting by William Blake (1779)
Shakespeare in the Park has been on my bucket list of things to do in Toronto since I first heard about it. Finally, earlier this month, we went to see King Lear (actually Queen Lear) at High Park.

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s more violent tragedies. Tolstoy hated it, Shaw loved it. Those who have read the original will agree it is one of the most engaging of Bard’s plays.  

Lear is driven to insanity by what would these days be described as elder abuse by his two older daughters Goneril and Regan to whom he bequeathed his entire kingdom based on their false flattery of his virtues. His younger, honest daughter Cordelia gets nothing because she chooses not to lie about Lear’s qualities.  

The older daughters quickly banish the doddering old Lear into the wilderness, where he is accompanied by the Fool and Earl of Gloucester, who has similarly been betrayed by his illegitimate son Edmund. The tragic death of Cordelia even after her victory both moral and in the battlefield, and of Lear at the climax of the play, makes King Lear one of the most devastating of Shakespearean tragedies.

The subplot of revolves around the Earl of Gloucester and his sons – the bastard Edmund and the legitimate Edgar. The Shakespearean establishment (in classrooms, not stage) consider the Earl’s blinding (3.7) as the most pivotal moment of the play.
Screen grab of actor Hannah Wayne-Philips during
the play's rehearsal 

Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now?

All dark and comfortless. Where's my son Edmund?
Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of nature,
To quit this horrid act.

Out, treacherous villain!
Thou call'st on him that hates thee: it was he
That made the overture of thy treasons to us;
Who is too good to pity thee.

O my follies! then Edgar was abused.
Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him!

Go thrust him out at gates, and let him smell
His way to Dover.

Lear at High Park was rejigged and King became Queen. Diane D'Aquila, who I learn from the internet, is a veteran, much-acclaimed actor, performed the role of Queen Lear without affectation and with the right degree of lunacy.

Any actor performing Lear needs to know that he is a totally self-absorbed royalty who doesn’t see anyone but himself, even when (actually especially when) his condition is rapidly deteriorating. And he is a crazy monarch long before he is actually driven over the edge by the cruelties of his daughters.  D'Aquila instinctively conveyed this self-absorbed lunacy in her performance.

Jason Cadieux’s performance as the Earl of Gloucester’s role is compelling, too, especially while delivering his blind soliloquy.  

 Jason Cadieux and Diane D'Aquila

The reinterpretation of the play with a woman protagonist was planned to coincide with the imminent rise of Hillary Clinton to the US Presidency, which, of course, did not materialise. However, Lear retains its essential anguish and regret even with a woman protagonist. In fact, it acquires an intimate, profound pathos.

Shakespeare in the Park is a great way to enjoy Shakespeare. It's obviously quite popular, considering it is celebrating its 35th year. It’s Canada’s largest and longest-running professional outdoor theatre experience, attracting over 30,000 people each year. 

Creative Team
Director: Alistair Newton
Assistant Director: Sadie Epstein-Fine
Set designer: Claire Hill
Costume designer: Carolyn Smith
Lighting designer: Rebecca Picherack
Sound designer: Lyon Smith
Fight director: Simon Fon
Production stage manager: Elizabeth McDermott
Stage manager: Krista MacIsaac Barclay
Assistant stage manager: Sandi Becker
Apprentice stage manager: Cole Vincent

Countess of Kent: Jenni Burke
Earl of Gloucester: Jason Cadieux
Edmund: Brett Dahl
Queen Lear: Diane D'Aquila
Oswald, Duke of Burgundy: Peter Fernandes
Duke of Cornwall: Kristiaan Hansen
Duke of Albany: Richard Lee
Edgar: Michael Man
The Fool: Robert Clarke
Cordelia: Amelia Sargisson
Goneril: Naomi Wright
Regan: Hannah Wayne-Phillips

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