by Lynn on February 17, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont. Playing from Feb. 16-26, 2023.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by James Wallis

Sound design by Matt Nish-Lapidus

Cast: Mairi Babb

Daniel Briere

Tristan Claxton

Steven Hao

Madelaine Hodges

Melanie Leon

David Mackett

Ngabo Nabea

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Deivan Steele

Breanne Tice

Scott Wentworth

Ben Yaganathan

A clear, precise interpretation of the play with a fierce, poignant and very moving performance by Scott Wentworth as King Lear.

It’s been three years since Shakespeare BASH’d has done a production, and they have come back with a vengeance with this production of The Tragedy of King Lear after being shut down by COVID.

Co-artistic directors, James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus love Shakespeare. They formed Shakespeare BASH’d in 2010 and have produced over 20 productions. Their focus is to make classical theatre ‘welcoming, inviting and social.’ They also “seek to synthesize the classical with the modern, to look at the plays from a place of curiosity, joy, investigation, truth, and love.”

The sets are spare but the productions are fully explored, developed, thought-through, researched and totally engaging. James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus don’t do anything weird with their productions, like set it on the moon, played in tomato aspic, or performed by three actors and a turtle. They might change the gender of a character but it’s done with integrity and intelligence.

The Tragedy of King Lear is a case in point. James Wallis directs the production at the Theatre Centre, in the Incubator. The playing space is square and ‘sunken’ by two steps, with the audience sitting on all four sides. The stage is bare except for furniture that is covered with a white sheet at the stage right side. Under the sheet is a sturdy chair (Lear’s throne) and some benches. That is the only furniture. The clothes are modern with the men in pants shirts and tops. Lear’s three daughters are in stylish slacks and heels or a dress and higher heels.

I assume you know the story so won’t review—high school English class is sometimes indelible. Scott Wentworth, as King Lear, needs no introduction—he is a stalwart of the Stratford Festival. Shakespeare’s words swirl around his mouth as if he’s eating something delicious. He conveys that joy of the ‘chewing’ to the audience. This is an actor who ponders and polishes every single word he speaks. An inflection on a word we don’t expect produces a whole new meaning. We think we know the play and then Wentworth has his way with us and takes us deeper into the character and the play.

Scott Wentworth is so clear in his journey from being a robust King, in command of everything he does, to gradually being diminished as his courtiers challenge him, and Goneril and Regan (a dandy Melanie Leon and Madelaine Hodges respectively), try to reason with him about visiting them monthly with a retinue they can’t sustain. The doubt about his sanity appears subtly in a furrowed brow, a questioning in the eyes. He becomes impatient with the need to explain and ‘reason.’ And then he swirls deeper down the rabbit hole of uncertainty, madness and finally clarity. It’s a masterful performance.

James Wallis directs with a sure hand and a dandy sense of the whimsical. When the Fool (a lively, thoughtful Julia Nish-Lapidus) brings on an umbrella in the storm scene, she pushes the button on the umbrella and the clear plastic umbrella pops up, sort of. It’s actually squished. It does unfurl, but rather than a bubble, it’s a bit squished at the top—a perfect umbrella for the Fool. It takes the ordinary and makes it noticeable.

In the scene when Gloucester (a serious, forthright David Mackett) is about to be blinded by Cornwall (a dangerous Daniel Briere), there is much screaming and leg-raising by Gloucester to give us a gut-wrenching sense of what is going on. Then Cornwall goes after the second eye, this time with a knife. This is not a spoiler alert. This is a WARNING!!!!! And it’s finished with a flourish resulting in a sound like EWWWWWW from us. Perfect.  

When Lear carries on the dead Cordelia (come on, you knew this!) Wentworth is strong in holding Breanne Tice as the loving Cordelia. But he is at the landing of the stage. Two steps lead him down into the playing area. It can be treacherous carrying a person, and having to go down two steps. James Wallis solves this beautifully. Kent (a forceful, loyal Mairi Babb), Albany (an honourable Ben Yoganathan) and Edgar (a courtly Ngabo Nabea) all come forward to take Cordelia out of his arms and carry her to the stage and also lead the grieving Lear down the two stairs. Wallis has created a sense of loving community in that heartbreaking scene. Terrific.

This is a wonderful production of The Tragedy of King Lear.

Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Opened: Feb. 16, 2023

Closes: Feb. 26, 2023.

Running time: 3 hours, (1 intermission)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arlen Lapidus March 6, 2023 at 10:40 am

I am the grand uncle of Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis. I couldn’t be prouder of them. They have excellent and thoughtful productions for years. Everyone I saw was a delight!
I thank you very kindly for recognizing their work and talent. I love listening to you on CIUT every week. Please keep up your passion.
With appreciation,
Arlen Lapidus.


2 Lynn March 6, 2023 at 10:41 pm

I’m blushing here, Arlen! What a lovely e-mail. And yes, both Julia and James are the real deal when it comes to theatre artists who care passionately for the work. I too have found their work a delight. It’s a pleasure to support it. And thanks for the kind words about listening to CIUT. Best, Lynn Slotkin