Stepping into Todd Theatre to watch William Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” one expects to be faced with intricate dialect and antiquated themes that the modern day student could hardly relate too. However, that is not the case of this modern adaptation of an age-old tragedy.
The set opens to a happy family picnic with King Lear, played by senior Jonny Stulberg, Lear’s oldest daughter Goneril, played by sophomore Taryn Kimel, Lear’s second daughter Regan, played by senior Holly Culbreath, and Cordelia, played by junior Anna Fagen, enjoying the festivities of a barbeque. The illusion of this happy family is shattered with King Lear’s decision to split his kingdom into thirds between his daughters.
The prideful King Lear elects to play a game in order for his daughters to prove their love. His two eldest daughters confess their superficial love for their father, to the extent of protesting that they love Lear more than their own husbands. To King Lear’s surprise, his youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to play the childish games of her father’s, believing that competing for his affection in this way cheapens her true strong feelings. Lear is angered by her refusal and subsequently disowns her.
Not only does he alienate the only daughter who truly loves him, but he also fires his devoted chief of security, Kent, played by freshman Zachary Kimball, after Kent tries to stand up for Cordelia. The end of the scene shows Regan and Goneril plotting against their delusional father while cleaning up the mess Lear made during his semi-psychotic rage.
The plot only thickens into a spiraling snowball from there. Lear’s senseless little game ends up costing him and those around him more than they could ever possibly imagine. Goneril and Regan quickly turn on each other and the play ends in death and violence.
One of the most engaging aspects of this production is the minimalist set design, which features a mobile grid that employs itself as a medium for visual stimulation. Something that I have noticed about Todd Productions is the continuously innovative sets. This one in particular is mind-blowing and adds multiple dimensions to each scene. The acrobatic antics of Jonathan Wetherbee, who plays Edgar in the production, are commendable but at times nerve wracking. Characters hanging upside down, slithering down ropes, piano playing, a smoking fireplace and a real life George Foreman grill are just some of the action to be seen.
The artistic vision of Nigel Maister, both the director and set designer of the play, comes alive through this landscape and allows for the manipulation of scenes. As the artistic director for the International Theatre Program since 2002, Maister created the stark set design for the production and has been instrumental in the development and direction of “King Lear.” The new perspective that Maister brings to “King Lear” in this show provides introspection into family dynamics and dysfunction.
I heard someone say once that all you need to know about life comes from Shakespeare. “King Lear” certainly proves that to be true. The play delves into the darkest depths of human emotions and the struggles that life imposes upon all. Aside from the confusion of scenes and speech, the raw emotions conveyed by the actors are powerful enough to unify all within the human experience.
“King Lear,” William Shakespeare’s great tragedy, will open Thursday, April 12, at the UR International Theatre Program’s Todd Theatre on the University’s River Campus, located in Todd Union.
Tickets for “King Lear” are $10 for the general public, $6 for UR students, and $8 for senior citizens, UR staff, and alumni. They can also be reserved online at www.rochester.edu/theatre or alternatively by calling the theatre box office at (585) 275-4088. Tickets can also be purchased at the door, one hour before the beginning of the performance.
Han is a member of the class of 2007.