King Lear Performance by Bryn Mawr Theater

Tonight I watched the Bryn Mawr Theater Department’s production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Students involved in this production, either acting or managing backstage, were part of the Bryn Mawr 360° Program “Shakespeare in Global and Local Landscapes.” They had the opportunity to work with 8th graders in Philadelphia learning Shakespeare in the modern urban context and to travel to Iceland to understand the changeable forces of nature.

King Lear is a play about the aging King of Britain and his three daughters. Lear begins to ask his daughters which one loves him the most to decide who to give the throne and land to. Two of the daughters give answers that please the king, but the youngest Cornelia does not. She is disowned and Lear progressively enters emotional turmoil and craziness. The other two daughters plot to kill those they think stand in their way of the inheritance and start to disrespect their father. They blind a nobleman Gloucester, imprison another nobleman, and imprison anyone that proclaims to be on Lear’s side. Lear escapes to Dover, where by then, he is insane and not mentally capable due to old age and stress. He is reunited with his youngest daughter Cornelia until she unexpectedly dies. Lear cannot handle the this and dies of grief. I do not know much about Shakespeare, so following along with the story was a little difficult at times.

The intro to the play in the pamphlet describes the changeability of nature and how this applies to human relationships. I definitely saw this theme reflected in the play. We see Lear decline, the love of his daughters become hate, and Cordelia’s loyalty questioned then accepted. We see bodies mutilated and aged, sceneries switched, trust broken.

I thought the technical aspects of the show were also worth acknowledging, partly because I played a minor role in some of the construction. My Fundamentals of Technical Theater class made the jacks supporting the panels hiding the side lights. Today in class we hung the curtain that hid the shop tools from the audience as they walked into the Blackbox through the shop. My class was also given an overview of the set. The stage was constructed from reclaimed barn wood. The wood has an antique appearance, but it was splintery so a varnish was coated on to seal the wood. There was a water pipe on the top of the ceiling in the backdrop for the rain effect at the end. I think rain symbolized sorrow and tears. Another aspect of the set was an antique light hanging down from the ceiling. I am not sure what the intent of the effect was, but it was pretty to look at. Most interesting to me was the use of the 3 scrims to project the scenery and divide the stage into 3 scenes. Scrims are pieces of cloth that are opaque when light is shined directly on it, but transparent when light is shined directly behind it. The majority of the lighting was done in a dimmer yellow tone. The only uses of color were during the scene when Gloucester is blinded and when Lear reenters the stage with Cordelia’s dead body.

If you have not had a chance to watch King Lear yet, I recommend you catch one of the showings this weekend April 15 or 16, 7:30 in the Hepburn Blackbox!