by Lynn on July 15, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Amphitheatre in High Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Alistair Newton
Set by Claire Hill
Costumes by Carolyn Smith
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Sound by Lyon Smith
Musical Director, Dan Rutzen
Fight Director, Simon Fon
Cast: Jenni Burke
Jason Cadieux
Brett Dahl
Diane D’Aquila
Peter Fernandes
Kristiaan Hansen
Richard Lee
Michael Mann
Robert Persichini
Amelia Sargisson
Naomi Wright
Hannah Wayne-Phillips

A workman-like production with some interesting gender-bending.

The Story. You know the story. King Lear is a lousy parent who divides his kingdom amongst his three daughters, Goneril (the eldest), Regan (the middle daughter) and Cordelia (the youngest). He’s going to spend equal time with each daughter who will take care of him, but he will keep the title and the retinue of about 100 men with dirty boots and bad manners.

But before Lear hands over the land he plays a bit of a game on the daughters by asking them to tell him how much they love him so they get a prized piece of real estate. We know he’s already divided the land equally but he makes his daughters go through hoops.

Goneril and Regan go along with it. Has he done this before, one wonders, and so the two eldest daughters know the game? Cordelia does not play. She loves him like a daughter should and that should be all that is needed. Lear is enraged. Is there any wonder it all ends badly.

The Production. This is the 35th year of doing Shakespeare in High Park. They had cake and popcorn last night at the opening. And a bit of extra drama they didn’t need. Robert Persichini, a wonderful actor, who was to play the Fool was taken ill and couldn’t do the performance. The director Alistair Newton read the part of the Fool in costume and make-up. I love the whole notion that the show must go on if at all possible. Everybody pulls together and the critics know to have compassion and flexibility in such a situation.

Alistair Newton makes some interesting directorial decisions for this production. King Lear is played by Diane D’Aquila who plays King Lear as a woman. I think it works. Lear is a strong character, bold, opinionated and in control. In this context she is impatient when she’s not listened to and that will happen often here. D’Aquila makes King Lear a woman who it’s dangerous to cross. She is imperious, volatile when her authority is challenged, yet gradually ground down when Goneril and Regan get even.

When King Lear first makes her entrance (I’m referring to ‘her’ from now on) she wears a white nightgown and is doddery and seems confused. As she is being dressed by her ‘staff’ in black Elizabethan finery she becomes in control, sharp-minded and anything but doddery. It’s as if the whole idea of being a ruler gives her her edge back.

While I won’t comment on the performance of the Fool, I will say it’s interesting that the Fool (who is played by a man) is dressed as King Lear is, in a black gown, as if they are each other’s alter ego. Interesting touch.

Kent in this case is also depicted as a woman and is played with confidence and assurance by Jenni Burke. Ms Burke is a wonderful surprise. Her forte is musical theatre. I believe this is her first Shakespeare production. She illuminates Kent’s loyalty to King Lear but also her sense of injustice when Lear banishes Cordelia. Kent knows it’s dangerous to challenge Lear, but at her core, Kent is a wise, just woman full of heart. Lovely performance.

Also full of heart is Jason Cadieux as Gloucester. Both Lear and Gloucester are parents who have mistreated and misjudged their children. Both parents endure terrible pain on their way to realizing what they have done and to make amends. Cadieux plays Gloucester initially flippantly, but then more and more concerned as he realizes who he can and can’t trust. Cadieux also instils great heart in his performance as Gloucester.

It’s refreshing to see Cordelia played with such forthright clarity by Amelia Sargisson. She is fearful regarding the game of telling Lear how much she loves her, but this Cordelia also knows the folly of the game and is confident enough to say so. Sargisson’s Cordelia is formidable in battle which gives her a different kind of confidence when she meets Lear again. Sargisson also handles the text with assurance.

Naomi Wright does fine work as Generil, the eldest daughter who bears the brunt of King Lear’s raging wrath. Wright handles the complexities of the language and the character with style and grace.

Comment. I have found that often in these park situations the cast tends to be uneven. While there are many fine actors in this production of King Lear, there are also a few young actors who are not up to the job. I can appreciate that it’s a learning experience, but you hope for a modicum understanding of the play, the style and how to say the words from the actors. It’s also a learning experience for the director.

This is a Canadian Stage production in collaboration with the Department of Theatre in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University. Both Alistair Newton, who is directing King Lear and Tanja Jacobs, who is directing Twelfth Night in High Park, are graduates in the Masters Program in Directing. Newton has a flair for arranging his actors around the stage, although you wish that he could make all his actors/actresses rise to the occasion of the Bard. The cast is strong in many cases and weak in others.

The setting in High Park is lovely; the atmosphere is good natured fun. Shakespeare in High Park also attracts the most attentive audiences. I think it’s a good way to become familiar with Shakespeare and his plays.

Produced by Canadian Stage.

Opened: July 13, 2017.
Closes: Sept. 3, 2017.
Cast: 12: 7 men, 5 women
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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