“King Lear” keeps its crown, if barely

Laura Streyle

Many who hear the familiar sound of a Shakespearean soliloquy or sonnet feel the necessity to adopt a posture of theatrical seriousness; an impression of one’s acquaintance with proper Shakespearean etiquette is pulled out as quickly as the dusty silverware that is reserved for an unexpected dinner with Great Aunt Emeline.
Lawrence University’s Cloak Theatre sold out four three-hour performances of King Lear, Thursday, Sept. 17 to Saturday, Sept. 19. The performances were put on by the 33-year-old theater company Actors From The London Stage.
The mission of AFTLS is to direct audience members’ attention away from the shine of the Shakespearean silverware onto the plateful of succulent food — onto the language, expression and plot of the play.
The touring AFTLS troupe is comprised of five actors: Caroline Devlin, Richard Neale, Terence Wilton, Dale Rapley and Rina Mahoney. As 14 characters make up the cast for “King Lear,” the group’s small size makes for a remarkable challenge. To solve this difficulty, each actor took on the roles of at least three characters and managed to juggle multiple roles within a single scene, dialogue or duel.
“[Playing multiple roles] allows us to be very inventive,” Mahoney explained to Assistant Professor of English Garth Bond’s Shakespeare class. “It’s not easy to carry on a conversation by yourself — it certainly keeps us very busy.”
Devlin went on to describe the depth of actor-to-actor awareness that is a result of this dramatic method.
It is debatable as to whether or not the dual-character playing was entirely effective for the audience, however, as we were not a part of the troupe’s collaborative process of staging and creating. The audience was susceptible to being easily distracted by abrupt stage crossings and jagged stops in dialogue.
Divisions between characters were made quite clear with the actors’ use of different tones of voice, props and various scarves. Yet, the nuance of each individual character, of Edgar versus Edmond, for example, was sacrificed in the making of this clear distinction between characters.
It would be wrong not to comment on what the company did very well. On stage, the performers passed the momentum of the plot around to each other smoothly — the flip of a hat occurred simultaneously with a switch in scenic mood, the depiction of King Lear’s confrontation with the storm brought rain into the theater, and the foreboding sounds of a drum magnified the intensity of the poor King’s wavering heart beat.
Offstage, the self-directed actors enthusiastically shared their philosophy of artful collaboration and detailed attention to the text with freshman studies, English and theater classes.
Each actor got students moving and experimenting with textual representation, ultimately revealing how tangible Shakespeare’s writing can be in today’s world.
AFTLS was successful in proving the importance of each reader’s interpretation — how each perspective is valued as an essential ingredient for the delicious feast that is Shakespearean drama.