King Lear Unbalanced both Figuratively and Literally

King Lear
UWO Summer Shakespeare
Western University
Directed by Jo Devereux
Choreographer: Ashley Patenaude
Fight Director: Rod Heikkila
Fight Captain: Brad Morosan
July 9-13, 2013
All shows at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors

Note: The show is in the courtyard outside of UCC but if it's raining: Conron Hall (University College 224)

Like my seat by the end of both acts, the Western Summer Shakespeare presentation of King Lear had its high points and its low points.

There’s a majesty about outdoor performances of the Bard’s finest works. The open-air concept, the intimate surroundings, the ambient sounds of birds chirping in the distance lend a sort of ambiance to the production. There’s also the very real inconveniences that come from an outdoor performance, including what can happen when the audiences’ seating is placed on oft-rain-soaked soil.

At the moment that the play reached its climax, I was reaching the nadir of my second personal seating dénoument as the back legs of my chair completed its slow descent into the wet ground, I realized that my viewing experience was a solid metaphor for the production.

This production of King Lear has some amazing high points and some telling low points, which all combine to give the viewer an odd perspective of the play.

It all starts with the titular character, portrayed by Joel Szafer. Lear is a role rich with pathos and grandeur. It is a role oft-coveted by the world’s finest actors for its depth and richness. It’s also a role that can veer towards melodrama and camp – and it’s down that path that this production’s portrayal frequently treads.

And in outdoor theatre, it’s vitally important to engage the secondary actors to form a background of sorts. In Western’s Lear, the actors tasked with framing the primary action often appeared to be lost. Depiction of drunken revelry was distractingly farcical at times; other moments of drama were met with an apathetic – and awkward – nonchalance. And a one-dimensional Oswald remains distractingly hunched over with his hands clasped before him like a cartoon villain.

But if those were the two rear chair legs mired in the muck, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the forelegs that made this a production well worth seeing.

There were some outstanding portrayals in this production of Lear. Of note, Andre Cormier’s Kent, Jack Morlog’s Edmund, Penelope Evans’ Fool, Meghan O’Hara’s Goneril, and Jessika McQueen’s Regan captivated the audience and demanded attention. Morlog’s soliloquies, in particular, were a highlight, and O’Hara and McQueen were equally as effective projecting disdain with their visages as they were with their voices.

The high/low counterpoint was reflected within the performances elsewhere. While Szaefer’s depiction of Lear’s mental descent tended towards the melodramatic, Marcus Brown’s portrayal of Edgar’s transformation into Poor Tom and subsequent resurgence showed a restraint and maturity that added gravitas to the depiction of madness.

For the most part the scenery and costuming complemented the production well. Save for an odd choice of Cordelia’s final dress (which seemed more Jackie O than Old English), the costuming and accessories lent credibility to the production. The outdoor setting, framed by the Collegiate Gothic styling of Western’s University College provided the necessary ambiance. And even the music, piped in through a pair of large speakers, was largely complementary. That is until the end when Avril Lavigne’s version of "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door" wafted over the audience as the figurative curtain came down -- an effect that was saccharine-influenced at best and cloying at the worst.

All in all, there is much to like about this production. And there are far worse ways to spend a warm summer evening than with a production of Shakespeare in a park setting.

Despite coming perilously close by both the end of the first act and at the end of the play, my chair never completely tipped over. The same could be said for this production of King Lear -- while there are a few things that need work, overall the play stands on its own and affords the viewer a welcome perspective of a theatrical classic.

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Jay Menard is a communications specialist by day, freelance man about the media by night -- and father and husband first and foremost. Born in Montreal, Jay has bounced between Montreal and London writing and broadcasting on all media: print, Web, radio, and TV. More known for business, news, and sports writing, Jay has always loved attending and writing about the arts, and brings an outsider's perspective built upon on a broad foundation of experience to his work.

The Arts Project - Theatre