Monkeys are smart. Though they haven't created cars or trains or weapon, they are educated through simplicity. They flourish on what they have, and if something doesn't work, they don't give up, but they evolve to overcome it. Like monkeys, Shakespeare had no thesaurus, no dictionary, no laptop and no editor. But when he came to a spot where he was at loss for words, he made up his own words. Through practice, perseverance and certainly trial and error, he created works that will last forever.

I am a 13 year old kid who is trying to read and attend live performances of all 37 Shakespeare plays (plus 3 possible collaborations) in 2 years. This is a record of my experiences.

I am now a 19 year old college freshmen at Northwestern University, pursuing a degree in Theatre. The spark of love for Shakespeare that began this blog has grown into a roaring fire. That fire burns a little bit brighter each day. This is where it all began.


Monday, June 20, 2011

King Lear, Bam Theater, Donmar Warehouse Productions


King Lear is a play about everything, and nothing. The heart-breaking story is filled from curtain up to curtain down with hints of hatred, misunderstanding, unfairness loyalty, love, death, pain, age, sanity, evil and rage. But the play is really about nothingness, or the path to it. Life is really just a race towards death, the ultimate equalizer. When Lear is king he has everything. But through the play he is slowly brought down to the basest level, his throne being usurped by a bastard and a fool teaching him lessons. This is brought on him because he attempted to defy nature. By dividing his kingdom, the undying union, he alters the ways of nature. This fault costs him his daughter, his mind, his kingdom and finally his life, though his adversaries are defeated. The true tragedy is that he loses his life after everything else has been taken.

Lear is clearly a very deep and difficult role. Every line he says can be said in many different ways, and how he says each one dictates what will cause him to be in such trouble later on. In the first scene, if he goes into a rage the instant Cordelia does not please him, it will then follow that he should be impulsive and storm out onto the moor without begging Regan or Goneril for shelter first. But if he is calm until she makes it clear she has no better answer, he will seem more thoughtful, and not charge onto the moor until he has exhausted every manner of abiding with his daughters. Therefore, complete thought is required for every one of his lines.

Consequently, each member of the cast is invaluable in King Lear, because each one, to become nothing, has to lose their defining quality. In the end everyone is reduced to indistinguishable shadows. As Lear falls, Glouchester, who can always see what must be done, loses his eyes. His son Edgar loses his sophistication and is reduced to an animal. Kent, the ever loyal subject, is banished and therefore loses the ability to be loyal to his master. The fool loses his baseness and is forced to play the wise man, as Lear is less wise than he. Goneril and Regan lose their evil unity fighting over Edmund, and both flail and perish alone. And finally Edmund is evil because he has no love, and when both queens begin to dote on him, he basks too long in the glory of it and undoes himself with pride. This Lear brings out new qualities in the play that bring up new topic.

What made this performance so special was not only that the world renowned Derek Jacobi played the troubled king, but also that after the run ends, he will have knocked off the last great Shakespearean role. Having the privilege of seeing him live is unforgettable. The stage was beautifully crafted to his abilities. It was blank with three large and thick white walls in the back. This allowed him to utilize the skill which sets him apart from the multitude; he filled the gigantic stage from corner to corner with his small frame by expanding his features rather than contracting in pain. Jacobis choice was to dote until one particular point. Where, instead of raging against subjects till he lost it, he snapped then and there. He just lost it springing upon Cordelia. Even with Regan and Goneril, where he is traditionally supposed to cling to some hope, he was, for the most part insane. Only once did he show some human nature, and in a very interesting part of the show. When he fled Goneril for Regan, he embraced Regan on the same part of the stage, in the same manner as he had Cordelia. It was his way of bringing Cordelia back. But Regan responded with defiance, reminding him that his Cordelia could not be replaced. And from that moment on he was an animal, only loosely resembling the shape of King Lear.   

            Jacobi grew clearly sicklier as the acts went by. His reddening face was more and more stressed as more pain was piled on his already towering plate. Finally he snapped. He skipped on stage to find Glouster and Edgar, blinked at them and moved on like a toddler, humming out of tune and mumbling insanities to him. His performance was so moving because in his eye he still seemed to hold some remorse for the banishment of Cordelia. Most others are too impulsive to do this. His unburdened happiness was unlike many other Lears who seem tormented. Holding a glimpse of sadness for his daughter, almost unrecognizable, but there was the only human trace about him. Others often become animals, hating everything. He wore a clean white sheet, showing his burden lifted. On his head sat a wreath of sticks and leaves. Like most of The Bard's works, Lear is interspersed with traces of Christianity. Hence, like Jesus, Jacobi wore a crown of thorns. Though seen in many other versions of the play, I still think it is an interesting point and should be pointed out.

Jacobi had a very strong supporting cast as well. The fool wore white makeup, stockings and a hat. His streaked face paint masked a worn complexion of cracked cheeks and sunken eyes. He spoke truth in jest, as he danced and skipped around. Both his daughters seemed to become fed up with him rather than hate him from the start, which I found very interesting. Glousters eyes were actually torn out on stage. Servants covered his head, and Cornwall smashed blood packs on his face. He emerged with blood covered eyes and bloody cloths, writhing in pain and anguish. It was gruesome, but it made the play real. His son, Edgar, and Kent were lights of loyalty burning through a cloak of injustice. And Edmund, the slimy bastard, undid his father with a twinkling of joy in his eye. They helped create a true, full scene of nothingness and emptiness, a world where values take a back seat.  And this is probably the only opportunity to see Jacobi play this coveted role. If you can find tickets, don't let them slip!