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Shakespeare tragedy comes to Brandeis stage

Published: November 14, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.


This week saw the arrival of one of William Shakespeare’s greatest plays to the Shapiro Theater at Brandeis University.

“King Lear,” presented by Hold Thy Peace, the Shakespeare society in residence at the university, is an ambitious choice for anyone to tackle, with its title role notorious as simultaneously the most challenging to perform and the most rewarding to watch (when done well). Excitement and curiosity, therefore, arose at the announcement of Lear’s impending presence on campus.

Directed by Frances Kimpel ‘10, “King Lear” is about a British king near the end of his years who, in preparation for the future of his kingdom, makes plans to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters: treacherous Goneril, cruel Reagan, and the lionhearted Cordelia, her father’s favorite. When Cordelia refuses to outshine her sisters’ demonstrations of affection toward their father, Lear enters a fit of pique and disinherits her, further dividing her share between her two sisters. Wanting nothing more to do with Cordelia, Lear travels back and forth between the houses of his scheming daughters, Goneril and Reagan, both of whom want to be rid of him due to his age and increasing senility. Various other noblemen also jockey amongst each other for their own political advantage and ambition. His attentions and efforts divided and strained by too many interested parties, as a storm brews in the air, Lear’s inner turmoil and insanity grow. When the storm breaks and all is over, Lear realizes that Cordelia was truly the one who loved him without deceit and desires to reconcile with her, only to find that it is too late – she has been executed.

The actors in Kimpel’s “King Lear,” some of whom we’ve seen in previous productions and others whom we have not, were rather inconsistent, as can be expected from a college production. Of particular note here, though, is Phoebe Roberts ‘09 alternatively portraying Cordelia and the king’s fool. She not only outshone the performances of her sisters but also her past performances on the Brandeis stage. When either of her characters entered the space, she drew the eye and brought life to a show that otherwise dragged. David Hinterman as the Earl of Kent, an advisor to the king, also added some brightness to the stage, though he might have been better if he appeared to be more comfortable in his physicality.

The real disappointment in this production was Jared Hite ‘10 as the titular King Lear. He definitely deserves much credit for taking on this most challenging and sizable of roles. As an actor in a production not touted as a staged reading, however, among his responsibilities is not to give the impression of simply reading lines imprinted on the backs of his eyeballs – in other words, to act. Jonathan Kindness ‘09, as the Earl of Cornwall, additionally seemed to be stumbling through the show without so much as even knowing his lines, which took much away from his performance. The actresses playing Reagan and Goneril suffered from the same problems as Hite and Kindness, though Stephanie Karol’s ‘12 Goneril was at least occasionally believable.

The theme of division seems additionally appropriate when considering the design of this production. The set, designed by Kindness, consisted of two multi-tiered platforms, one on each side of the stage, dividing the space quite well. Its simplicity was well adapted to use as representing varying locations while keeping in the theme of separations. The costumes, as well, took advantage of color to remind us of the connections between certain people, and dividing them from others. The main problem with these, however, was that they seemed rather inconsistent both in terms of aesthetic style and time period.

Bernie Gabin’s ‘12 lighting design, however, was the most awkward aspect of the design elements in this production in that it seemed out of sync with the rest of the production. For example, there were a number of blackouts throughout the production, presumably to mask the few scene changes involving more set than the aforementioned platforms. These caused the energy and flow of the play to dissipate uncomfortably. Though this is not entirely the designer’s fault, sound cues should have accompanied these moments and, thus, would have held together the continuity of the show much better. Also, the bulk of the design seemed to consist mostly of simply turning off and on a random set of lights with absolutely no continuity or subtlety. A good lighting design should tell us not only where to look but also how to feel and how to perceive what we are seeing, which this design did not do.