by Lynn on March 9, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

ch 8, 2013, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: LEAR at the Studio Theatre at Harbourfront until March 10 and DANCING WITH RAGE at the Panasonic Theatre until March 24.

1) Good Friday morning. It’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn. What’s on tap for today?

Hi Phil. I have two wildly different plays. First LEAR, a deconstruction of Shakespeare’s King Lear done at Harbourfront as part of the World Stage Festival. And then Mary Walsh’s one person, multi-charactered play, DANCING WITH RAGE.

2) Let’s start with LEAR. How was this production deconstructed?

It’s pared down to a simple story of an unreasonable father (Lear), and the damage he’s done and does to his three daughters.

Four actresses play Lear and his three daughters-Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. While an actress, Clare Coulter plays Lear, no effort is made to change the gender references. And they do it all in 80 minutes.

Lear divides his land between his daughters, but because Cordelia doesn’t play the game and tell him how much she loves him, he cuts her out and banishes her. Goneril and Regan treat him badly and spend a lot of time recording various sound effects. Lear philosophises to his fool, played by a puppet. Lear is left to wander in a storm, driven mad by his demanding daughters. He is found by Cordelia who leads him off stage. The end.

You have to appreciate the guts and chutzpah of taking King Lear and deconstruct it to such an extent, but that is what director/adaptor Philip McKee and his company have done with Shakespeare’s play.

3) Why? What’s the point of this exercise?

Beats me? Truly. I think it’s a theatre exercise that you would find in a theatre class or in the protected world of a rehearsal, only this company is doing it for a paying audience. Philip McKee gets to stage scenes in various ways that are slightly different with each repetition.

For example both Goneril and Regan do a progressively frenzied mimed dance to the various sound effects that have been recorded during the show. Each sister tries to out do the other and still keep up until they are exhausted by the end. So that’s a director’s exercise.

I can’t also call it an acting exercise because there is precious little acting. Mainly the lines are delivered in a flat monotone; dull, lifeless and without inflection. (For example this exchange between Lear and Regan—Lear: “I gave you all.” Regan: “And in good time you gave it” is one of those brilliant exchanges between a deluded, cruel father who had his daughters go through hoops for his affection, and a furious, abused daughter who finally gets her chance to ‘stick it to him’ with the truth. But in the production of LEAR the lines are deliberately delivered in a way devoid of effort to illuminate what them mean.)

So enlivening the dialogue and discovering some great truth about one of the greatest plays ever written is obviously not the intention of director Philip McKee.

I seek enlightenment in the program. “The company creating LEAR is a group of theatre makers interested in exploring what it means to communicate with a live audience in the 21st century. By adapting KING LEAR they have had to contend with one of the theatre’s great legacies, and in doing so, examine contemporary performance through the lens of its past.”

What does that mean? Mystifying. That said, I think there are interesting images in the actual production.

3) What are some of them.

Lear comes on with a recycled shopping bag full of Styrofoam cups. He dumps them on a table and divides them into three piles. Each daughter is invited to come and collect her pile of cups. Two of them do but Cordelia doesn’t so in a fury Lear pushes her pile off the table. I think this is a terrific way of suggesting Lear dividing up his kingdom. (But then for some reason McKee then goes back to the traditional way of Lear dividing his land. He has a map in front of him and pencils off the portion for each daughter. I have no idea why he does both ways. This bogs down the show.)

Lear’s helplessness just before he’s banished into a storm, is suggested by the cast and crew cutting off parts of Lear’s costume so by the end Coulter as Lear, is in an undershirt and long underpants.

Part of the show is observed first in the auditorium by the audience and then at a certain point we are all invited on stage to sit in chairs facing the auditorium so we can watch the rest of the play. I don’t know the reason for this but it’s an interesting exercise.

4) Can you comment on the acting such as it is?

Clare Coulter plays Lear. Clare Coulter has been involved in experimental theatre in this city for decades. She’s a quirky actress so that droning and flat delivery are right up her alley.

In what is fast becoming a pretentious habit in the theatre, the other three actresses are listed only as “Performer” and not by the name of the character they play, even though they each play one part.

Only Coulter is identified by her character. Why? Part of the exercise? Ridiculous.

5) Who would you recommend this to?

Acting students. Directors and directing students. That small group of theatre goers who like the avant guard or the plain weird.

6) And now for something completely different: DANCING WITH RAGE.

Created and performed by Canada’s own wild woman, Mary Walsh. She plays an assorted cast of characters from a prim woman coming up the aisle of the theatre commenting on the political goings on of the day; to a foul-mouthed, crotch-scratching cab driver; to everybody’s favourite Marg Delahunty, Warrior Princess. The story seems to be that of Marg’s.

How she was lonely, friendless and insecure as a child. Her family didn’t want her and didn’t hide it. She drank when she got older. Her partners were mean, violent losers—one of whom was so angry at the world that he was dancing with rage—hence the title.

And when she was a teenager Marg had a child that was put up for adoption. Marg now begins looking for that child. For a second there she thinks that perhaps Steven Harper is her long lost kid, until she comes to her senses and meets the real child she have to give up.

7) Is it full of the usual Walsh wit?

It is. In the first few minutes of the show a prim woman walks up the aisle talking a mile a minute about the goings on in the day, taking pot shots at Conrad Black, Garth Drabinsky and of course Rob Ford. The comments are sharp and satiric.

She changes into various characters in front of us stripping down to her impressively firm underwear changing into costumes and makeup. It’s Marg Delahunty, red boots, skirt and breast spirals that have the house cheering.

There is a back drop of filmed bits of Marg accosting various politicians including her beloved Rob Ford and Steven Harper.

8) How does the show do?

I found some of it very funny—Walsh is truly gifted. I also found it over written and meandering. There is a long metaphoric story of a little girl who lived in the house next to her family. The horror of what that kid had to contend with is piled high.

I think it needs to be cut down and refocused. Walsh also co-directs this with Andy Jones, her fellow Newfoundlander. I got a sense of desperation here trying to keep us entertained with all sorts of stuff—Marg yammering a mile a minute; makeup on, off, new costume on etc.

While many of the characters are clever, I wondered why many of them were there.

This Hour might have 22 minutes, but DANCING WITH RAGE at 90 minutes seems like a weekend.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

LEAR plays at the Studio Theatre at Harbourfront until March 10.

Mary Walsh’s DANCING WITH RAGE plays at the Panasonic Theatre until March 24.

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